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Isabel Toledo Says It's Her 'Duty' to Provide Fashion to Plus-Size Women

On Thursday, the first day of spring, another new season was beginning.
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On Thursday, the first day of spring, another new season was beginning: Lane Bryant celebrated its first-ever designer collaboration with designers Isabel and Ruben Toledo by putting on a runway presentation.

It marks the start of an exciting period for the plus-size retailer, which announced Tuesday that another collaboration with designer Sophie Theallet is in the works. But Thursday's event was all about the Toledos, whom Lane Bryant CEO Linda Heasley says she is "so appreciative" to have on board.

"When we met at lunch, we talked about changing the conversation," she said before the show. "It's time to put the fashion industry on notice, that our client deserves great fashion too, and Isabel and Ruben were wonderful in championing it."

Isabel proved equally excited about the collaboration. "For me, it's really important that women are given the opportunity to be eccentric," she told us. "The liberty, the freedom, the right to be eccentric, to be their size, and to have the freedom or the opportunity to enjoy fashion at any size [...] I can't imagine not having that, so I feel a duty to provide it."

Though designer collaborations on the mass market are hardly anything new, this is the first of its kind in the plus-size market. So why has it taken so long? "I think it is tough, because you have to have technical expertise," Heasley admitted.

"That's why I trusted [Lane Bryant]," Isabel chimed in. "When I came to realize, the one thing I can do with Lane Bryant, they've got the size, they've got the proportion."

"I was free to design without worrying about getting it right," she said.

And get it right she did. Isabel's designs for Lane Bryant included plenty of chic, tailored pieces -- "I wanted to dress a more sophisticated woman, more grown up," she said -- which are fashion-forward without being alienating to the brand's core customer. Particular standouts included a blush and black lace dress with cutouts at the shoulders; an army green dress with black inserts; a swingy orange skirt; and an elegant black robe coat.

There were some misses, bound to happen in a 50-plus look show -- namely, a few shapeless tunic tops similar to what Lane Bryant has been offering to its customer for a while -- but overall, it was a beautiful collection filled with stylish pieces.

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It was equally important to all parties that the collaboration be shown on a runway. "Clothes in motion are the real deal," Ruben explained. "Fashion's all about the anatomy, so to see a woman in motion with the textile moving, that's what it's about."

And truly, it was like any other runway -- a model even took a tumble. The only difference is that Lane Bryant didn't shy away from using models of all sizes, including true plus sizes. A strong argument could be made for models like Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine taking more runways, who werked better than a lot of girls I saw during fashion week; though admittedly, I did raise my eyebrow at a couple of models who didn't look to be bigger than a size 6 or 8, the industry's starting standard for plus-size models, who would clock in far below Lane Bryant's starting size of 14.

Some of the looks that hit the runway have been in stores for a few days now, and Heasley reports that sell-through is exceeding expectations. "We have customers coming in saying, 'I need more Toledo in my life,'" she said. ("I need more Toledo in my life too! I don't see my husband anymore," Isabel added jokingly.)

Well, those customers are in luck: Isabel has already designed and completed four collections, to debut over the course of this year. "This is just a sliver for the whole year," Ruben said with a smile. "This is like a taste."

Get a taste of Isabel Toledo for Lane Bryant:

Photos: Courtesy