Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out

Loretta Lawrence Keane, VP for Advancement and External Relations
Cheri Fein, Executive Director of Media Relations (212) 217-4718

A Mid-Career Retrospective On View June 17-September 26, 2009

The artistry of Isabel Toledo will be saluted in Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out, presented by The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology from June 17 to September 26, 2009. This mid-career retrospective will display approximately 70 iconic looks from the mid- 1980s to the present, including pieces from Toledo's highly praised 2007-2008 collections as creative director of Anne Klein.

Toledo is often described as a "designer's designer" and a "cult figure in fashion." Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein calls her an "incredible talent," while Narciso Rodriguez praises the "unique beauty" of her creations, adding that "she is, by far, the designer I admire most today." Other admirers include Andr Leon Talley of Vogue and Glenda Bailey of Harper's Bazaar. First Lady Michelle Obama famously wore an Isabel Toledo ensemble to the 2009 Inauguration. Toledo is the recipient of numerous honors, including FIT's Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion in 2008.

Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out is organized by Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, and Patricia Mears, deputy director of the museum. They will also co-author the accompanying book, to be published by Yale University Press. Charles B. Froom will design the exhibition. Support has been provided by the Couture Council of the Museum at FIT.


Isabel Toledo design 1

Isabel Toledo design 2

Double Tier Pagoda dress and
jacket; fall/winter 1996-97
Blue and white brocaded cotton and silk

Wave dresses, spring/summer 2006
Eggplant and charcoal silk taffeta


Isabel Toledo design 3

Isabel Toledo design 4

Diamond Draped bodice dresses,
finished and unfinished, fall 2005
White rayon jersey

(L) Hermaphrodite dress,
circa 2005, Garnet silk taffeta
(R) Cocoon Sleeve gown,
spring/summer 1998
Taupe silk taffeta


Born in Cuba in 1961, Isabel Toledo learned to sew as a child. Fascinated by her grandmother's sewing machine, she became committed to mastering the techniques of fine dressmaking. After moving to the United States as a child, she met her future husband, artist and illustrator Ruben Toledo, with whom she works in close collaboration. Toledo held her first fashion show in 1985 and was immediately heralded by Vogue as a great new talent. Her focus on technique, her willingness to experiment, and her strong personal vision make her work stand out.


Isabel Toledo design 5

Isabel Toledo design 6

Blossom Sleeve bolero and Balloon
dress, spring/summer 2005
Garnet silk paper taffeta, chiffon

Half Moons Blossom into a
dress, fall/winter1998
Black rayon jersey

Toledo does not sketch, as most fashion designers do; instead, she uses construction as the point of departure for each of her designs. Each nascent idea begins as a three-dimensional vision that evolves as Toledo manipulates fabric and cuts patterns. She works closely with her husband to give her visions shape, gesturing to show how a fabric should fall. "I think of it as fashion from the inside out," she has said. "I can describe an idea or even a feeling to Ruben, and hell sketch it."


Isabel Toledo design 7

Isabel Toledo design 8

Armadillo Sleeve shirtwaist dress,
fall/winter 2008
Black pleated silk taffeta

Broomstick Librarian shirtwaist dresses,
Spring/summer 2008
Designed for Anne Klein and hand-painted
by Ruben Toledo; Undyed silk pongee

Toledo insists that she is not a fashion designer, but rather "a seamstress" who thoroughly immerses herself in the technique of creating clothes. As a result, she is one of only a handful of genuinely innovative fashion creators in a business dominated by stylists and trends. Toledo creates "demi-couture" by blending traditional, custom-made haute couture with ready-to-wear accessibility.


Isabel Toledo design 9

Isabel Toledo design 10

Apron dress, spring/summer 1997
Purple, azure blue ombre silk chiffon

Pie coat, spring/summer 1995
Striped cotton denim

The major themes of the exhibition are based on categories the Toledos created to describe the extraordinary range of creative styles, influences, techniques, and materials that constitute Isabel Toledo's vast body of work. The category Origami, for example, includes garments that began as simple geometric shapes and were then folded to form three-dimensional "sculptural" garments. The category Suspension refers to her jersey and taffeta dresses that hang effortlessly from thin cords of fabric or cables. A third category, Liquid Architecture, represents her jersey dresses that fall in sensual folds against the body.


Isabel Toledo design 11

Isabel Toledo design 12

Cigar Rolled Gowns, fall/winter 2007-08
Emerald green and beige silk jersey

(L) Waterfall Dress and Matching Jacket,
spring/summer 2007
Lilac, assorted pinks, cranberry, and nude silk tulle
(R) Waterfall Dress, spring/summer 2007
Nude silk tulle

Additional categories are Shadow, Shape, Organic Geometry, and Manipulated Surfaces. The exhibition will also include drawings by Ruben Toledo that support and illuminate Isabel Toledo's work.


The Museum at FIT is the only museum in New York City dedicated solely to the art of fashion. Best known for its innovative and award-winning exhibitions, which have been described by Roberta Smith in The New York Times as "ravishing," the museum has a collection of more than 50,000 garments and accessories dating from the 18th century to the present. Like other fashion museums, such as the Muse de la Mode, the Mode Museum, and the Museo de la Moda, The Museum at FIT collects, conserves, documents, exhibits, and interprets fashion. The museum's mission is to advance knowledge of fashion through exhibitions, publications, and public programs. Visit

The Museum is part of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), a college of art and design, business and technology, that educates more than 10,000 students annually. FIT is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) and offers more than 44 majors leading to the AAS, BFA, BS, MA, and MPS degrees. Visit

The Couture Council is a membership group of fashion enthusiasts that helps support the exhibitions and programs of The Museum at FIT. The Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion is given to a selected designer at a benefit luncheon held in the Rainbow Room every September. For information on the Couture Council, call (212) 217-4532 or email [email protected].


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