Isabel Toledo Makes Her Mark in the Fashion World

Isabel Toledo first made a name for herself in the fashion world when Michelle Obama wore her "lemongrass" dress and overcoat for the president's historic inauguration in 2009.

Now the Cuban-born designer stands as a Latino fashion icon. People En Español ranked her one of "The 25 Most Influential Women" in their October issue, and three years ago she received The Couture Council Artistry of Fashion Award.

Toledo has also gone mass market – she designed a handbag and shoe line for Payless ShoeSource that is now flourishing. The Payless line, she said, givers her accessibility.

"I can dress every woman," she said. "It's incredible because I am on such a different market that being able to have a voice to a mass market is a gift."

She brought her upcoming season’s mix, with the dominance of strap stilettos, to Miami’s runways this week.

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Staying true to her Hispanic roots, she showcased her Caribbean inspired spring-summer 2012 collection for the sixth annual “Magia de la Moda,” hosted by Vanidades magazine. 

This marked Toledo's second appearance on the runway in over a decade after opening last month in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“Since the collection was inspired in the Caribbean woman, when we were invited to show in Puerto Rico it felt like serendipity,” Toledo said. “And, Miami is sort of the northern coast of the Caribbean [with] crossroads of cultures, especially Latin culture.”

Her collection displayed "watercolor" tropical hues on flowy knee-high and evening gown dresses. While silk short shorts made a reoccurring strut down the runway.   Detail to floral patterns and garment construction complemented Toledo’s carried name as the "seamstress" within the industry.

"It's really all about the technique, which I absolutely love." she said. "It's the technical parts of fashion that inspire me, more than fashion."

Referring to her personal pair of strap stilettos worn that night, she stated that the shoe carries a lightweight and can be worn with anything.

"She calls them jewelry for the feet," said her husband, Ruben.

The Beginning

Toledo launched her line in 1985 with her husband, who illustrates all of their work.

The couple's marriage has lasted almost 30 years since formally meeting in high school. "It was love at first sight for me," he said.

But it's not just their love for each other that makes their collaboration work, it's their "differences which create the friction that creates the work," he said.

They both recently received a Fashion Group International Lifetime Achievement Award in Miami.

“To do what you love and to have your life’s work recognized by FGI, an organization which is seminal and so relevant to our industry, is an honor—and a dream unto itself” Toledo said. “For several years, we have funded the FGI Isabel and Rubén Toledo Scholarship and it means a lot to us.”

Toledo’s Future

She said more runways are in works, as well as a book entitled "Roots of Style”, which is scheduled to be released early next year.

She said her husband and her have always been inspired by the work of Juan Ramos and Antonio Lopez, well-known Puertorican fashion illustrators who worked in New York.

“Our careers have been a story of self-generated success – which is difficult now in a globalized economy,” Toledo said. “But we have proved that it can still be done, and the most important thing for us is to weave cultures and societies and disciplines into our work.”

Madelain Tigano is an intern at the Miami Bureau of Fox News Channel.

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