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By Miguel Paolo Celestial Published in Rogue Magazine, November 2008 There are the usual and now common collaborations between visual artists, fashion designers, architects, and interior and industrial designers, lasting only one or several seasons. Usually the convergence is pure business: to expand the visual language of a brand or to search for new synergies between disciplines to push their limits. The conversation that takes place is often times terse, limited, and in terms of relationships, fixed. Then there are the rare marriages of heart, mind, and creative sensibility. These blessed occurrences happen less between corporations than between talented individuals, and in the case of artist Ruben Toledo and fashion designer Isabel Toledo, between actual spouses. Their creative fusion has spanned two decades and covers fashion design, painting, illustration, and even sculpture. Ruben has designed perfume bottles, mannequins, award statuettes, store windows, scarves, fabrics, dishes, and carpets. He has painted portraits, murals, and album covers. His witty fashion illustrations has kept his work streaming in magazines, including The New Yorker, Vogue, Details, Harper’s Bazaar, Paper, Visionaire, Interview, and The New York Times. He is also the current illustrator for Nordstrom’s national ad campaign for the big labels. He has come out with three books, one of which is Style Dictionary, a collection of his watercolor paintings and drawings. His work has rounded the exhibitions worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Costume Institute in New York and the Louvre in Paris. On top of this, his collaboration with his wife Isabel was the topic of both a book and exhibit entitled Toledo/Toledo: A Marriage of Art and Fashion at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, where they are both based. Ruben also has a film, an animated History of French Fashion entitled Fashionation, to his name. For four years (2000, 2003, 2006, 2008), Ruben Toledo has been the illustrator for Louis Vuitton’s City Guides, portraying several world destinations with his unique mix of surrealism and pizzazz. He reprises as the artist for the guides in 2009 with Mumbai, Miami, New York, Paris, and Tokyo in feature, and Bucharest, Glasgow, Lausanne, Manchester, Palermo, and Saint-Tropez as new destinations. There is no better way of showing how Ruben’s art not only captures the imagination of the fashion world but also crosses borders in terms of cultural references and appeal. He captures the vibrancy of life with the constant commotion in his art—whether it be of color, people, emotion, patterns and doodles and swirls and arabesques that flow with fabric flounces and hairstyles— that expresses constant creative buzz. But even with all his accomplishments
and accolades taken together, Ruben is only half the story. He is married to fashion not only because he illustrates for brands and magazines, but also because his dreams inspire the clothes of his designer wife, Isabel, who in turn inspires him as his muse. The Toledos are each other’s creative sustenance and are together an artistic force. The two Cubans met way back in their high school years, in New Jersey. Ruben says he fell in love right away, while Isabel was first smitten by his art. They married in 1984 and Isabel presented her first collection in 1985. After all these years of creative endeavor, the couple escapes any categorization; their work and their personalities have not been assimilated by the establishment. Isabel remains an idiosyncratic designer, who stopped presenting regular bi-annual collections in 1998, instead preferring to produce at her own pace and by her own standards. Her success has earned her a short stint as creative director of Anne Klein. Fashion insiders, from Karl Lagerfeld and Narciso Rodriguez to Paper magazine editor Hastreiter, continue to follow her designs. The absurd playfulness, audacity, and humor of Ruben’s work feed Isabel’s bohemian bent, expressed in construction and design, while keeping her clothes pragmatic—always with the view to clothe the human body. His surrealism and instinct makes light her industrial groundedness and her appreciation of both machinery and tradition. Both are highly individualistic, passionate, and prolific. The Toledos cast investigations into form and expression with their own brand of unpredictable insight. They do not simply follow current trends or resurrect old ones; they scrutinize fashion and society and suggest their own interpretations. They are resourceful but decidedly low key. With conviction, they let their works speak for themselves. They break through bounds. I think this is part of the reason why Ruben Toledo’s works are so fluid that they are transferable from one media to the next: from magazine print to interiors to body paint, and also how Isabel Toledo’s designs have become timeless. Isabel and Ruben Toledo were awarded the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in 2005. They are living testament of the conjunction between art and fashion—these two worlds that are always seething with change and innovation, with the expansive permutations of ideas. The relationship between the two is best exemplified by the Toledos’ work and symbiosis. Ruben and Isabel Toledo have not only built an eclectic home/work place high above midtown Manhattan, famously filled with the couple’s works, history, predilections, and visions; they have also built a thriving refuge for their curiosity, expression, and dreams.