Well Warranted Shine: Isabel Toledo at FIT

Masterful designer Isabel Toledo may be best known for the Inaugural ensemble she created for First Lady Michelle Obama, but the self-described “seamstress” has been honing her glorious craft since childhood and presenting professionally since 1985.

“I really love the technique of sewing more than anything else. The seamstress is the one who views fashion from the inside! That’s the art form, really—the technique of how it’s done.” Isabel Toledo in a 1989 interview with curator Dr. Valerie Steele

Though the Obama commission was certainly a feather in her cap, it did not inspire the retrospective of her work currently up at the Museum at F.I.T, Isabel Toledo: Fashion From the Inside Out. Marking her 25 years in business, the exhibition, planned a year ago, is an extensive look at her impressive body of work and the collaborative process she shares with her husband of 26 years, illustrator, Ruben Toledo.

The show is organized thematically by the brilliant concepts which reoccur in her work: Organic Geometry, Shadow, Suspension, Liquid Architecture, Shape, Manipulated Surfaces, and Origami.

Unconcerned with fads and trends, the ever elegant Isabel creates fashion that is timeless. Most would be hard pressed to put a date on her designs, perhaps only those followers with an encyclopedic knowledge of her trajectory. The Isabel Toledo garments I pulled for fashion shoots in the mid 90’s would still look and feel entirely appropriate for now.

Though the online presentation is wonderfully executed, the in-person experience is a must for anyone who enjoys fashion, art and the collaborative process. There are just a few days left, the show closes on Saturday, September 26.


From Organic Geometry: Jellyfish blouses and dresses, Ombré silk chiffon. Spring/Summer 1995 Photo, Karen L. Willis.


From Shadow: Red Neck dress, Black lace, organdy, and nude and red chiffon. Spring/Summer 1998 Photo, William Palmer ©MFIT.


From Suspension: Hermaphrodite dress, Garnet silk taffeta. Circa 2005 Photo, William Palmer ©MFIT


From Liquid Architecture: Tequila Sunrise gown, Coral, stone, and olive rayon jersey, and elephant gray, double-faced silk satin. Fall/Winter 1994/1995 Photo, Karen L. Willis.


From Shape: Butterfly Wingspan jacket, Caramel lace, black chiffon, and silk tulle trim. Spring/Summer 2006 Photo, William Palmer ©MFIT


From Manipulated Surfaces: Broomstick Librarian shirtwaist dresses , Undyed silk pongee. Spring/summer 2008 Designed for Anne Klein and hand-painted by Ruben Toledo Photo, William Palmer ©MFIT.


Ruben and Isabel making adjustments to The Dress, which seems to have had breast pockets at the time.

From Origami: Lemongrass dress and coat. Lemongrass wool lace, silk tulle, and silk crepe lining. Dress worn by Mrs. Obama on the day of her husband’s inauguration as President of the United States, January 2009. Lent by First Lady Michelle Obama.


The Toledos, spent from setting up the exhaustive exhibit.

The Museum at FIT

27th Street at 7th Avenue

Tues – Fri Noon – 8pm
Saturday 10am – 5pm
Closed Sundays, Mondays, and legal holidays.

View a video clip from New York Magazine below:

Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out/New York Magazine


4 Responses

  1. This makes me want to go to the studio and create!

  2. If you love fashion you will love this show. If you have gotten bored with fashion it will make you love it all over again.

  3. I just love it. It’s soft, it’s sensative and fluid. There is also that attention to detail that I really appreciate.
    Like a previous comment, it also makes me want to go create.

  4. Dang,…..I hate that I missed such a great exhibit. Isabel Toledo is my all time favorite…………

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