Space of the Week: Dropping in at Isabel Toledo’s Studio

This week, fashion designer Isabel Toledo launches her book, Roots of Style, Weaving Together Life, Love, and Fashion, illustrated by her husband, Ruben Toledo, and published by Penguin Group. Isabel and Ruben are inseparable. You cannot think of one without the other. Their love story is legend to all who know them. When I visited Isabel’s studio last week, I was privy to a rare peek into Isabel’s innermost sanctum, where she designs her fashion collections. I had a few moments alone with Isabel before Ruben joined us to show me Isabel’s latest collection, some of it seen here. The painted murals on the floor by Ruben were for the launch party of Isabel’s book at Treasure & Bond, the recently opened store on West Broadway that’s a throwback to old New York department-store shopping”but with its own very current vibe. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Here, the cover of Isabel’s book. “When I was first approached about writing the book,” Isabel explains, “I was asked to do a ‘tip’ book, and I said no. I am not a tip giver, I change my mind too quickly.” The book ended up becoming a very moving and inspiring biography of her life. In her introduction Isabel writes, “Fashion is what time looks like, and that is something I take very seriously.” Nothing illustrated Isabel’s time better than when President and Mrs. Obama walked before the world on an icy Inauguration Day, Mrs. Obama wearing a coat and dress designed by Isabel. She continues to write in her introduction: “For me, a political refugee, that moment was an enormous accomplishment and a humbling gift from the universe.” Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Group

Isabel, in a rare moment of quiet, in her studio office. I think Isabel has come to look more and more like Ruben’s drawings of her. Both Cuban born, Ruben and Isabel came to America with their families, Ruben in 1967 and Isabel in 1968. They met in high school in New Jersey. “It was in my Spanish class, freshman year of high school, that I first met Ruben, the young man who would later become the love of my life and who still makes me tick 27 married years later,” she writes in her book. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Isabel also designs her shoe collections for Payless in the studio. Here is a sample of one of her inspiration collages along with different heel and toe lasts. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Some of the Isabel’s sample shoes from the Payless Collection stored under the counters. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Isabel and Ruben added the winding staircase and the upper balcony in 1995. Photo: Wendy Goodman

The stairs lead, first, to little fantasy balcony with an Isabel Toledo Pattern Painting showing a series of three designs done in fire-hose linen and outlined in chamois-skin suede. These were first exhibited at the Toledo Toledo exhibit at FIT Museum in 1998. “The papier-mâché girl was a mystery gift left on our doorstep.” The Victorian chair was found at the Salvation Army twenty years ago. Ruben used it as his painting chair for fifteen years, until he found the cane-and-ebony ragtime piano stool in Puerto Rico that he now works on. Photo: Wendy Goodman

“The triangular mezzanine archives were built according to the flow of the building on an angle. This is the logical shape to follow,” Isabel explains, “because it is in fact the shape of the building.” Photo: Wendy Goodman

Ruben and Isabel. The picture speaks for itself. Isabel wrote the book, in longhand, taking a few hours before work each day while still in bed. Photo: Wendy Goodman

One of Ruben’s many illustrations of Isabel in the book. Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Group

A photograph of Ruben and Isabel taken for the New York Times and incorporated into a collage sent as a Christmas card to Ruben and Isabel hangs above a portrait of Abraham Lincoln in the studio. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Space of the Week: Dropping in at Isabel Toledo’s […]