By Rey Robes Ilagan
Fashion visionary Isabel Toledo, best known for designing Michelle Obama‘s 2009 presidential inauguration outfit, has died on Monday in a New York hospital. Her husband, the artist Ruben Toledo, said the cause of death was breast cancer.
The independent New York designer pioneered complex geometry and unusual construction in modern fashion, even compared to fashion greats such as Geoffrey Beene and Charles James when it comes to construction work.
Isabel, the Cuban-American creative force, was also one of the first fashion insiders to fully embrace plus-size in the industry.
But Isabel’s most highlighted moment was when Michelle Obama wore a lemongrass-colored sheath dress and matching overcoat to the 2009 presidential inauguration.
Isabel attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and later transferred to Parsons School of Design where she pursued studying fashion, painting, and even ceramics. The designer debuted her eponymous label in 1984, the same year she married Ruben. Three years on, the designer stopped presenting biannual offerings and chose to have her own schedule for presentations. After two decades of independently running her own fashion line, Isabel briefly served as creative director for Anne Klein in 2006. She then collaborated with brands such as Payless, Lane Bryant, and many more.
The designer received multiple accolades including the 2005 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award, Otis College of Art and Design Critics’ Award, Fashion Institute of Technology Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion, and Tony Award nomination nods for her work on the musical After Midnight.
With the news of Isabel’s death, the fashion industry has begun mourning on social media.
Fashion designer Peter Som posted on Twitter, “#RIP #IsabelToledo. A fashion idol of mine and many. True kindness and true amazing amazing, amazing talent.” While Prabal Gurung, another fashion colleague of Toledo’s, wrote, “We will miss her brilliance, her talent, and grateful for the legacy left behind. A designer’s designer, #IsabelToledo will be remembered forever.”
“The fashion world has lost today a rainbow of talent and joy,” said Nina Garcia, Elle Magazine editor in chief. “RIP my friend Isabel Toledo. You and your husband Ruben inspired all of us. You created magic and showed us how love is the most powerful tool to create fantasy. Today is a sad day. My deepest condolences, my dear Ruben. I know that she will keep illuminating us from above with her magic hand.”