Isabel Toledo, the acclaimed fashion designer best known for creating the dress worn by Michelle Obama at her husband’s presidential inauguration in 2009, has died aged 59.
Toledo’s fashion defied catwalk trends, embracing diversity and difference.
“I’m not a fashion person,” Toledo told CNN in 2012, instead calling herself an “engineer”.
Her husband and professional partner Ruben Toledo said she died of breast cancer.
The two met in secondary school, Ruben claiming he fell in love with Isabel at first sight. It took four years for her to reciprocate, but they married in 1984 and were close professional collaborators, rarely seen apart.
As an artist and illustrator, Mr Toledo would sketch his wife’s designs, including the 1960s-inspired shift dress and coat that Michelle Obama wore as her husband was sworn in as US president.
On that historic day in January 2009, the colour of the incoming first lady’s dress was the subject of much debate, with commentators referring to it as yellow, green and gold.
But Toledo defined it as lemongrass, “a very optimistic colour, that had sunshine”, she told the New York Times.
Isabel Toledo arrived in the US state of New Jersey from Cuba as a teenager. She had started sewing at the age of eight.
She trained as a fashion designer at the Fashion Institute of Technology and then the Parsons School of Design, before leaving to intern for fashion editor Diana Vreeland.
Toledo worked as an independent designer, presenting her first collection at a New York nightclub in 1984 and going on to sell pieces in luxury fashion stores across the world.
She told CNN she loved to “engineer a garment. To make this thing work, to make it stand”.
Later, she eschewed the restrictions of the catwalk to produce new collections on her own schedule. She briefly held the post of creative director at Anne Klein from 2006-2007.
In 2012, she published an autobiography entitled Roots of Style, which was illustrated by Ruben Toledo and recounted their lives together.
Michelle Obama’s decision to wear Toledo at the inauguration symbolised a new era.
“I have always believed in fashion for all – all ages, sizes, and styles accepted,” Toledo told Interview Magazine in 2014. “My ideal happens to be diversity. I love difference. I love change.
“I love experimentation and eccentricities. I like not knowing something and then discovering.”