Obama’s designer comes to KSU

Sarah Blei

Isabel Toledo, husband talk about inspiration for Inauguration dress

Isabel Toledo sits for an interview yesterday in Rockwell Hall with her husband, Ruben Toledo. Toledo designed the ensemble Michelle Obama wore on Inauguration Day. Brittany Ankrom | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Art and fashion collided in Rockwell Hall Thursday evening when Isabel and Ruben Toledo spoke about their marriage of design.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” said Isabel, who gained notoriety by designing Michelle Obama’s lemongrass wool lace dress on Inauguration Day.

Isabel and Ruben were both born in Cuba and came to America at a young age. They met in high school, married shortly after, and ever since have been inspirations for one another.

“I wouldn’t do a painting or drawing without Isabel around,” said Ruben, who is known for his work as a painter, sculptor, illustrator and critic as well as an inspiration for Isabel’s designs.

He explained Isabel’s work as “very practical and poetic.”

Isabel said she likes experimenting with the fabric for her designs.

“I definitely have a sixth sense for fabric and what it does,” she said.

Isabel spoke about her design concept for the First Lady’s attire during her husband’s swearing in ceremony.

“I dressed that moment,” Isabel said. “I dressed the emotion.”

Isabel explained how Obama wore her clothes long before she became aware Obama was.

“She had been wearing my work before I knew she was, which is really an honor because she actually liked my work before,” Isabel said. “I love that she is just a regular gal and has been a customer for years.”

Ruben was just as excited as Isabel about Obama wearing her designs.

“Michelle has a good fashion IQ, like most girls do,” Ruben said. “They know what they like. They don’t need to be told what is in style.”

Isabel talked about various garments she designed that didn’t prove to be as popular.

“I love the ugly ducklings,” she said. “They are the seeds of the future.”

Ruben expressed how important it is to be an individualistic person.

“It’s good to wear what no one else likes,” he said. “It inspires the next everyone else.”

Isabel feels just as strongly.

“It’s not just what you can learn in the school, it is to figure out how to have your own voice,” she said. “You don’t have to have your own point of view.”

“Don’t just follow what you are being told, there are always different angles to everything,” Isabel said.

Isabel and Ruben reminisced about their experience when they first started out.

“It’s funny, I always tell students, we never thought that what we do was a career. We never thought about what a career was,” she said. “We bumped into what we do today by accident.”

Isabel continued, “This is what we breathe, we love doing what we do.”

Ruben wants students to always stay confident and never give up.

“Remember, there is no finish line, kids,” he said. “There is no race to make it. It just happens while you are doing what you do, so that is the beauty of it.”

Ruben emphasized the importance of school and obtaining an education.

“School is for you guys to be exposed to as many different things as possible and then pursue what is very interesting to you,” he said. “You have to find your own way. No one is going to find it for you.”

Lydia Hopmann, a freshman fashion design major, conveyed how inspired she is by Isabel’s work.

“That’s what I want to do. I want to go out there and do everything I could possibly do,” Hopmann said. “They don’t have one facet to what they do – they have multiple ones, and they use different elements of everything they find. She pulls inspiration from everywhere.”

Kelly Chaffin, a freshman fashion design major, remarked on how Isabel and Ruben work together.

“I think it is great how they work together because they have the business aspect plus her design,” she said.

“I think what’s really inspiring for me is the fact that my drawing skills are not the greatest but my sewing, and my love for sewing is really strong,” Chaffin said. “I can relate to her in that way – being able to construct something from my own vision.”

Isabel reacted with gratitude to students who are inspired by her designs.

“If I can inspire someone else, I’m thrilled because it is a language.Again, you are talking to this person through your work,” Isabel said.

Contact School of Fashion Design and Merchandising reporter Sarah Blei at [email protected].