Monday, August 3, 2009
Isabel Toledo: Fabulous Fantasist !
I just got my paws on the Isabel Toledo encyclopedia which accompanies her exhibition at The Fashion Institute of Technology. It's written by the show's curators Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears. Encyclopedia is the best way to describe this book as it covers all things Isabel and an awful lot of her collaborator and husband Ruben Toledo.
Prolific, creative , visionary, fantasist, modernist ....none of these labels really encompasses or does justice to her ability and contribution to 20th and 21st century fashion. The work, it's beauty , and it's total originality is staggering. It was actually daunting and an overload to my senses with each turn of the page. What is most mind numbing about Isabel's oeuvre is that it is almost a secret . Unless, you are very savvy and know your fashion lexicon from A to T (the rest of the letters are just redundant) you might not know that a National and International treasure lives , works and breathes among us.
There are so many examples of different methods of fabric, texture, shape and color manipulations in her vast arsenal that it's an injustice to her to try to pinpoint them. You really need to buy the damn book, get on the subway, bus, train or plane and run, don't walk to F.I.T.'s museum and see it for yourself. There is something about her eye that seems to reference the most influential movements and designers of clothing from the 18th century to the present and future.
I could see, Charles James , Geoffrey Beene, Madame Gres, Claire McCardell,Jacques Fath, Dior,and the dressmakers to Queen Elizabeth the 1st in aspects of different garments. But though I was reminded in the tiniest ways of these masters from before, they had been merely twinkles in her incredibly personal and original eye. These creations are 100% Isabel Toledo. Her history of design is a PHD program for anyone who wants to take on this sacred craft.
At moments it was so beautiful and special, so deceptively simple that I felt like a rank beginner, even after 20 plus years working as a designer. My collection of books on fashion, design, and designers is pretty big and comprehensive. They range from the most obscure to the most influential, but this book is my most precious one of all.
Isabel Toledo is a National Treasure. We have in this city and in this country one of the most gifted and directional designers this world possesses. Isabel and Ruben Toledo deserve the respect and all of the honors that this Industry and the public can bestow. Anything short of that is unacceptable. The CFDA could hand at least 3 awards to her alone and it would honor just a fraction of her contribution.