Isabel Toledo, the Cuban-born, New York-based independent fashion designer died of breast cancer on Monday morning at the age of 59.
Born in Camajuani, Cuba in 1961, Toledo moved to West New York, New Jersey at a young age and met her husband and design partner Ruben Toledo in high school. After stints at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design Toledo presented her first ever collection in 1985.
In a 1989 interview Toledo described her work as "not very classically sexy. I don’t really undress the body. You know you have a good body; no one else has to know it," she said. "There’s a certain security in being able to wear a shape that hangs so faraway from the body. And yet, when a woman walks into a place in my clothes, she’s going to definitely be noticed, which means she has to be secure, because she takes up a lot of room."
She worked briefly as the creative director at Anne Klein from 2006 to 2007, but is perhaps best known for the light-green sheath dress and matching overcoat that First Lady Michelle Obama wore for Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration.
That same year, the Museum at FIT staged Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out, an exhibit highlighting 70 of Toledo's designs, which included Mrs. Obama's inauguration dress. The exhibition was organized by Dr. Valerie Steele, director and fashion historian at FIT.
"I think that what makes Isabel a real “designer’s designer” and an interesting artist to people who are into fashion is the fact that she is so independent and she’s always kind of experimenting," Steele told Dazed at the time. "Her patterns are not like ordinary patterns. She knows how ordinary patterns work and she has been working with them since she was eight years old, but she will ignore them."
In recent years, Toledo made waves for her colorful collaborations with Target, Payless, and Lane Bryant.
Nerisha Penrose Assistant Editor Nerisha is the assistant editor at ELLE.com, covering all things beauty and fashion.