Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out

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Last night, the Museum at FIT celebrated the opening of  “Isabel Toledo: Fashion From the Inside Out,” a mid-career retrospective of the designer’s work from the 1980s to present. As soon as the party started, there was frenetic activity (and cases of empty wine bottles) in the lobby. Cuban-American designer Toledo and her husband Ruben were busy greeting and posing with an endless throng of industry well-wishers.

Isabel has quietly produced some of fashion’s most innovative — and wearable — designs for the past two decades. The retrospective at FIT highlighted her unique creative vision with a display of 70 looks from over the years.

Located downstairs from the party, the exhibition began with a glossy timeline, charting the evolution of Toledo’s work from 1985 onward. It included a spectrum of shots, from her first plaid collection and magazine spreads to the iconic image of First Lady Michelle Obama wearing her designs at this year’s Presidential Inauguration. THE DRESS stands front and center and will be shipped off to the Smithsonian when the show closes in September.

Walking the exhibition, it is extraordinary to observe how different each of Toledo’s collections can be. The Museum showcases the broad and beautiful array of Toledo’s experiments with shape, texture, color and technique. The gorgeous Wave dresses made of eggplant and charcoal silk taffeta (Spring/Summer 2006) are a world away from the Caterpillar dress in black rayon jersey (Spring/Summer 1998). Much of her work, like the Armor Trench Coat in a dazzling silver and black acetate silk (from Fall/Winter 2004), seems ahead of its time.

Above all, Toledo’s love for creating and her commitment to craftsmanship are evident. In the program, she notes, “I’m a seamstress. The seamstress is the one who views fashion from the inside! That’s the art form, really — the technique of how it’s done.” From the gorgeous watercolor murals by Ruben Toledo surrounding the perimeter of the exhibition space to the detailed synopses of the designer’s work, FIT has done an excellent job of presenting this art form.

Watch a super-cute video of Isabel and Ruben Toledo discussing their work.