Isabel Toledo, designer who made Michelle Obama's 2009 inauguration dress, has died, report says

Fashion designer Isabel Toledo designed First Lady Michelle Obama's Inauguration Day outfit, making the artist a household name. CNN's Alina Cho reports.

Posted: Aug 27, 2019 2:20 AM
Updated: Aug 27, 2019 2:20 AM

Isabel Toledo, the acclaimed Cuban-American designer best known for creating Michelle Obama's 2009 inauguration dress, has died, her husband, Ruben Toledo, told the New York Times.

She was 59. The cause was breast cancer, her husband said.

Isabel Toledo was regarded as a "designer's designer" who focused on technique and shunned the limelight as she made her name through looks that blended traditional haute couture with ready-to-wear accessibility.

"I'm not supposed to say I'm not a fashion person, but I'm not... I love design," she told CNN in a 2012 interview.

"Design is so different than fashion. That's why design lasts forever. It's like an engineer. I love to engineer a garment. To make this thing work, to make it stand, to make this sculpture work."

Toledo was born in Cuba, where she learned to sew when she was 8 because "I couldn't find anything I loved," she said in 2012.

After moving to the United States, she honed her craft as a professional dressmaker at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons School of Design and the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she interned for Diana Vreeland.

She met her future husband, Ruben Toledo, in high school in New Jersey.

It would take several years for them to partner up, personally and professionally, but the two eventually became close collaborators in a partnership that was a marvel of the fashion world.

The two were inseparable, said Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator at the Museum at FIT. The museum held two exhibitions of Toledo's work that explored her love of pattern-making and transforming two-dimensional patterns into three-dimensional garments that became her signatures, Steele said.

"Isabel Toledo was a brilliant fashion designer. I first met her in 1990, and immediately felt that she was an original and inspiring designer -- and a beautiful person," Steele said.

An acclaimed artist and illustrator, Ruben sketched her designs, including the outfit that made her a household name, a lemongrass shift and matching overcoat that Michelle Obama wore to her husband's inauguration in 2009.

Toledo told CNN in 2012 that her inspiration was a small swatch of lemongrass fabric in her studio.

"The emotion behind the dress was that piece of fabric," she said.

With time running down before the event, she explained the idea to her husband, who sketched the dress, emailed it over and quickly got approval.

"I still sweat thinking about that day," she said.

But despite her expertise in the fashion world, she said she preferred to focus on design.

"I get all enthralled if I have to come up with: How do I sew this cloth? What am I saying with the fabric? It's nothing to do with, 'What does it look like?'"

Toledo also designed more mainstream looks, including a series of boots, pumps, flats and handbags for the discount chain Payless.

"As a designer, your goal is to communicate and to get your work out there regardless of whether you're making a dress, a T-shirt, or even an ashtray," she said.

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2136032

Reported Deaths: 53813
CountyCasesDeaths
Kings28550710509
Queens28088910015
Suffolk2030273409
Nassau1858663184
Bronx1857776597
New York1413674524
Westchester1307522295
Erie901851814
Richmond766061850
Monroe695991117
Orange48768847
Rockland47307968
Onondaga39280680
Dutchess29728447
Albany24893358
Oneida22765517
Niagara20168375
Broome18744367
Saratoga15563168
Ulster14043258
Schenectady13291205
Rensselaer11333145
Putnam1068293
Chautauqua8990146
Chemung7826137
Oswego767593
Ontario746293
Steuben6998147
Sullivan673576
St. Lawrence671597
Cayuga638692
Jefferson622668
Wayne581873
Cattaraugus576592
Genesee5452124
Herkimer5235110
Clinton486833
Madison459989
Livingston455060
Fulton444993
Tompkins439152
Montgomery4276128
Columbia4109104
Cortland395564
Tioga385863
Warren373762
Wyoming361453
Allegany357687
Chenango352777
Otsego347747
Greene345279
Washington318755
Orleans313983
Lewis283136
Franklin257012
Delaware241239
Seneca202157
Schoharie171918
Essex162026
Yates118226
Schuyler108614
Hamilton3162
Unassigned8812
Out of NY0252
Utica
Partly Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 61°
Oneonta
Partly Cloudy
66° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 66°
Herkimer
Partly Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 61°
Old Forge
Partly Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 61°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather

Alivana Wellness Infusion Giveaway
Senior Send-Off brought to you by Herkimer College
18 Facets of Summer Photo Contest brought to you by Herkimer Diamond Mines
Looking for work or looking to hire? Check out the WKTV Job Fair!
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve