Fashion Designer and DIFFA Supporter Isabel Toledo Dies in New York

Isabel Toledo, a Cuban-American designer known for her self-described “romantic mathematics” approach to dressmaking, died of breast cancer Monday in Manhattan. She was 59.  

Toledo, a staunch believer in staying true to her craft rather than following the latest trends, is widely known for designing the lemongrass-hued shift dress and overcoat worn by Michelle Obama in the 2009 inaugural parade. She often layered precise geometric patterns to create ethereal, architectural looks.

Isabel Toledo. Photography courtesy of Isabel and Ruben Toledo.



Though Toledo worked mostly in fashion, she and her husband Ruben Toledo, an artist, curated a dreamy studio space in midtown, complete with expansive views and found objects, where they lived and worked for many years. "We experience art. We're makers,” said Isabel Toledo in a 2007 interview with Harper’s Bazaar.

For most of her life, Isabel collaborated with Ruben—the two met in high school—on various projects and exhibitions, including a showcase called Labor of Love at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) that ran from December 2018 through this past July. The pair also won the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in 2005 for their fashion contributions. Longtime supporters of the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA), Isabel and Ruben Toledo often attended the group’s annual Dining by Design benefit.

Isabel and Ruben Toledo. Photography courtesy of Isabel and Ruben Toledo.

Isabel Toledo largely worked as an independent designer, though she briefly held the position of creative director at Anne Klein from 2006 to 2007. Throughout her career, she championed diversity in fashion by designing clothing that suited a range of body types and sizes.

Read more: Design Legend Karl Lagerfeld Dies in Paris 

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