Isabel and Ruben Toledo are stalwarts of art and fashion (and perhaps, as a couple, perfectly embody the collision of those two worlds), but what they've come to represent goes beyond that.
As immigrants from Cuba, they are the "American Dream" and have withstood immense changes within their fields over the past few decades, all while living together in New York City. Their longevity--both in their careers and their relationship--is inspiring to say the least. So, it was a pleasure to hear them talk about it all last night at Parsons (where Isabel was once a student), in a discussion with Simon Collins, Dean of the School of Fashion. The discussion was also timed to coincide with the launch of Isabel's book (for which Ruben did beautiful illustrations). Here are the most interesting bits we gleaned from the convo:
• They started Isabel's fashion business with almost no money. Specifically, it was the money they got from their wedding.
• Ruben started selling his work to Fiorucci while still in high school. He says it happened by chance and things like that happened all the time back then. "It was like the daytime version of Studio 54," he said. "It was a real cultural mix of art and fashion and music, photography film."
• Isabel decided she wanted to be a fashion designer while working at the Met with Diana Vreeland. She said that was when she recognized that fashion could be seen as art and "realized this is what I need to do: make clothes as art."
• Regarding fashion week, where Isabel did show every season until 1998, she said she feels it is important for a designer's identity but that she "can't afford it anymore." Ruben adds that a designer really has to have investors in order to be able to afford to show and waxes nostalgic on the old days when you could show anywhere, like in cafeterias.
• On Michelle Obama wearing her design to the inauguration, Isabel said, "That gave me a whole other breath because it put me on a world stage; it's incredible that I dressed that moment." The moment was about more than just fashion for Isabel and Ruben; it was about history. Ruben stated, "Fashion is what time looks like." Isabel added, "That's part of why I wrote the book--Why am I still here, why am I doing this? I started at the Met looking at fashion as time and I got to dress a very important time in our history." She also said she had no idea that Michelle was going to wear it.
You can pick up a copy of Roots of Style: Weaving Together Life, Love and Fashion today.