Born in Cuba and raised in the United States, fashion designer Isabel Toledo showed her first collection in 1985. This self-described ‘seamstress’ was immediately inundated with affection and praise from the most concerning of the international fashion press, but it wasn’t until this past January that Toledo gained wise-spread commercial recognition after Michelle Obama clothed herself in the designer’s wares for the inauguration day ceremony. This said, it is no surprise that upon entering the space showcasing Toledo’s work at The Museum at FIT, the golden ensemble worn on that day is the first thing seen.
Fashion from the Inside Out could not be a more appropriate title for the exhibition as Toledo’s work has an intellectual quality that goes beyond draping and aesthetic and moves into the science of the garments. A photo-history of Toledo’s work shows her development as an innovative and conceptual fashion designer but the real magic of the exhibition lies inside another room where over 75 pieces are on display. Curators Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears did an amazing job providing a cohesive and comprehensive retrospective of the designer’s career so far. Separated into seven distinct sections, each piece is accompanied by a line drawing and description card that show just how pioneering the designer’s work really is.
A common theme woven throughout the exhibition is Toledo’s keen eye for the human form. In each of the sections, Origami, Suspension, Liquid Architecture, Shadow, Shape, Manipulated Surfaces and Organic Geometry, the designer’s aesthetic is consistent. A garment from a collection in 1989 hangs beside one from this past season, and while the design elements have changed, Toledo’s technique has not.
A mural of illustrations by the designer’s husband and frequent collaborator, Ruben Toledo, frames the space, setting an atmosphere where art meets fashion. Toledo’s mechanical approach to fashion is what sets her apart, and this is demonstrated with overwhelming evidence in this inspirational and important exhibit.
Isabel Toledo: Fashion From the Inside Out runs until September 6, 2009 at the Museum at FIT. For more information, visit fitnyc.edu.