Americans Near Paris: A New Exhibition in France Highlights the Work of Isabel and Ruben Toledo

The title of the show is rather poignant.
It’s really still painful for me to even think about a future without Isabel, but I want to honor her work, and I love that SCAD is honoring her work. The sharing of her design ideas and her philosophy are important to me; that’s my mission now. I’m still mourning Isabel and I’m mourning the couple [that we were], the Toledos. That couple [is gone], so I’m their custodian. I’m here to work and make sure their archives and their body of work remain pertinent and important and shared with the next generation.

What aspects of that work do you think is most highlighted in this show?
I think [the curators] picked pieces that illustrated how [Isabel’s] engineering and her smartness in construction is always super evident, how smart her clothes are made and designed, and structured to ‘set it and forget it.’ They’re so perfectly made, you don’t have to think about them anymore; you can almost wear them inside out, front to back, and they work.

Isabel always said she dressed emotion. The way Isabel really expressed emotions in cloth and in how things were made. If something was delicate or strong or aggressive or fragile, she liked addressing everyone’s emotions. It allowed women to keep expressing themselves and [did the same for] herself. So I think that is the highlight. And the idea that we’re using Isabel’s quotes and some of my writings about Isabel; there are personal notebooks and sketchbooks involved. We wanted to touch on how fashion, at its height, and good design is more than just engineering, it’s also emotion, and it’s also personal relationships. It feeds the heart as well as the mind.

[Fashion] has to live in the world and it has to serve you. I think the fact that we worked with costumes early on, whether it was our performer friends, like Klaus Nomi, or with choreographers, like Twyla Tharp or Bill T. Jones, we understood the difference between costume and real clothes. Sometimes costumes could be stunning, but it’s a costume, it’s a facade, but so much can be learned from a facade that you can then interpret for real life. [But fashion] must function, Isabel was very conscious of that. It has to live in your closet and you have to want to wear it often. Isabel [also knew how to rise to] those special occasion moments where, yeah, you’re going to wear this [look] and you want to look stunning, and you’re not going to sit down; she understood that too.