Toledo, Isabel and Ruben

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Ruben and Isabel Toledo are a husband-and-wife team who work closely together in several fields of fashion. She is a fashion designer known for producing clothing that combines sophisticated simplicity and meticulous craftsmanship. He is a fashion artist whose distinctive drawings have appeared in many fashion publications and whose work extends to designing mannequins and painting murals for fashionable restaurants; Isabel is his muse and almost invariably his model. He also is responsible for managing the business side of her clothing business. Theirs is a true creative partnership; it is impossible to delineate the boundaries of the contribution of each to the work of the other.

Born in Cuba in 1961, Isabel learned to sew as a child, when she was fascinated by her grandmother's sewing machine. She describes Cuban culture as one in which mastering the techniques of fine sewing was an admired accomplishment for women. When she first began designing clothes, she adopted the technique, associated with such great couturieres as Mmes. Grès and Madeleine Vionnet, of working directly with fabric by draping and cutting, designing in three dimensions. Like Claire McCardell, she works in simple materials such as denim, cotton jersey, and cotton flannel. She describes her garments as forward-looking and optimistic.

Ruben Toledo was born in Cuba in 1960; he and Isabel met in school as members of the large Cuban expatriate community of northern New Jersey. They quickly recognized one another as kindred spirits and began collaborating in art and design. They were married in 1984.

Isabel showed her first collection in 1985 and was immediately acclaimed as an important new talent on the New York fashion scene. Her clothes—architectural, slightly severe, with black or shades of gray dominating her palette—became highly prized by wearers of fashion-forward, "downtown" styles and were praised in such publications as the Village Voice, Paper, and Visionaire. Acquiring a cult following in New York, Paris, and Tokyo, Isabel nevertheless has had difficulties finding sufficient long-term financial backing to break out of niche markets to reach more widespread recognition.

The Toledos had a major exhibition, Toledo/Toledo: A Marriage of Art and Fashion, at the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in 1999. Ruben's illustrations reached a wide audience in his witty book, Style Dictionary (1997). In one of his iconoclastic fashion illustrations, entitled "Fashion history goes on strike," Ruben portrayed dresses from the past, from New Look to Mod, parading across the page in a militant demonstration, carrying placards reading, "Let us rest in peace! No more retro! Look forward, not backward!" Both of the Toledos remain on the cutting edge of style, moving fashion forward.

See alsoArt and Fashion .


Hastreiter, Kim. "Isabel Toledo." Paper (Fall 1998).

Mason, Christopher. "A Pair of Muses, above It All." New York Times (27 February 1997).

Toledo, Isabel and Ruben. Toledo/Toledo: A Marriage of Art and Fashion. Kyoto, Japan: Korinsha Press, 1998. An exhibition catalog.

Toledo, Ruben. Style Dictionary: A Visualization, Exploration, Transformation, Mutation, Documentation, Investigation, Classification, Free-association, Interpretation and Exact Quotations of Fashion Terms and a Collection of Past Works. New York: Abbeville, 1997.

Valerie Steele