The Artist's Toolbox, a PBS show where John Jacobsen interviews "America's best artists," features Isabel and Ruben Toledo this weekend. The episode offers a revealing look at the couple and how they encourage each other's art. So set your DVRs--the show airs Sunday on New York's local PBS affiliate WNET channel 13 at 3 p.m. In advance of the show, we asked the designer about her creative process, designer collaborations, and how she and Ruben maintain such a strong relationship--in love and work.
What do hope that viewers will learn about you and how you work by watching this show? Creativity is a mysterious thing and as individual as each creator, but I hope the viewer can get a sense of the free form-border jumping terrain that is fashion combined with the high degree of craft involved to achieve the final vision.
At one point in the show you say you don't really consider yourself an artist and that you've never had a job--how do you explain these statements? I don't consider myself an artist--I am a designer first and foremost which for me is a process of service. The art part for me is a given--it's the source of impulse to design--but the expertise of the design part is my primary focus when I am working on a collection. I don't consider what I do a job because I do what I love--making clothes is what I did before we started our business and it is what I would do even if I could not make a living from it--that's why I cant consider it a job.
How do you and Ruben keep your collaboration so strong and so that it keeps pushing and inspiring both of you? You say that you never sketch but Ruben sketches your sense of how you feel a garment should be--how does that process work? Do you ever fight or disagree over things? We do disagree and have a creative volley over just about everything--our aesthetics are very different but the acceptance of the mistakes...[the] understanding leads me to a more complex and interesting design proposition, it makes for a far more forward vision.
Speaking of collaborations--you've done a small collaboration with the Harlem Target and a line for Payless--are there any collaborations you're working on now? Would you ever do a full line for some place like Target? Any dream collaborations? I love design so any opportunity to stretch my design vocabulary and any chance to collaborate with Ruben is tops on my list. What I make is limited because of the cost and time involved in making my clothes. But I love to be able to make things affordable enough to wear and use on an everyday basis.
You talk about starting out and sewing everything by hand. When did you decide to design and what advice would you give to young designers starting out? I always sewed my clothes ever since I learned how to stitch and cut fabric--the business came organically later on as an extension of what I loved to do and as a way to earn a living. My advice to designers just starting out is always the same: do what you love, use your instinct, and make sure what you make is infused with your soul and with passion because people can feel that.