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.

Confirmed Cases: 397131

Reported Deaths: 32206
CountyConfirmedDeaths
New York City21696923190
Nassau420312186
Suffolk416421983
Westchester350431427
Rockland13648668
Orange10775484
Erie7475639
Dutchess4243152
Monroe3953273
Onondaga2949188
Albany2152121
Ulster183486
Oneida174298
Sullivan145648
Putnam133663
Niagara128488
Schenectady83437
Broome75358
Saratoga56617
Rensselaer56530
Columbia47537
Madison36317
Orleans28254
Ontario28033
Steuben27041
Warren26933
Greene26318
Fulton26124
Washington24614
Genesee2395
St. Lawrence2242
Oswego2063
Wayne1853
Tompkins1790
Herkimer1733
Chenango1505
Chemung1462
Tioga14624
Chautauqua1327
Livingston1328
Cattaraugus1276
Cayuga1202
Montgomery1194
Clinton1034
Wyoming975
Jefferson940
Delaware914
Otsego865
Seneca710
Allegany631
Schoharie590
Cortland510
Essex480
Yates486
Franklin330
Lewis310
Schuyler130
Hamilton60
Unassigned00
Utica
Clear
89° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 89°
Oneonta
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 80°
Herkimer
Clear
89° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 89°
Thendara
Clear
89° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 89°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
Click here to learn more about A Healthier Mohawk Valley
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve
Senior Send-Off brought to you by Herkimer College
Menu 2 Go list of takeout dinners & fish fries
WKTV Golf Card - Under 150 left