When Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States in 2009, not all eyes were just on him. His wife, Michelle Obama, stirred headlines for her glittering lemongrass suit designed by one of the leading Latina designers. Since then, Isabel Toledo has been a household name and continues to create in her towering Manhattan loft, which also serves as her home with her husband, artist Ruben Toledo. The two, both from Cuban origin and both 51, share more than just a marriage of over 30 years. The duo is also known for their public adoration and distinct looks.
Isabel’s willowy frame, doe eyes and ebony hair serves as inspiration to Ruben, whose pencil thin moustache makes him resemble an old Hollywood star. Now Isabel is releasing a book, “Roots of Style: Weaving Together Life, Love and Fashion,” which also features her husband’s artwork. It was her urgency to write an “immigrant’s story” what prompted the memoir/fashion inspiration guide.
“As an immigrant who planted roots in a new country and as an independent designer in the very competitive world of high fashion, I hope it provides anyone creative who is just starting out some foresight and perhaps some reassurance,” said Isabel in an interview with Fox News Latino. “It is honoring my parents’ brave decision to leave their homeland in hopes of a better future for us.”
“My Cuban roots are such a core of who I am and how I am,” said Ruben. “How I grew up in Havana and how I experienced my new country informs everything I do.”
Ruben, who first met Isabel in high school, describes his first encounter with the designer as “love at first sight.” In the case of Isabel, it took a few years before being with the man who would share her success. While Isabel displays experimental gowns, Ruben develops illustrations for high-end clients, like the New Yorker. In public, Isabel and Ruben are often together holding hands, and in interviews the two sometimes finish each other’s sentences. At their loft, the two exchange ideas. This could possibly be the key to their romance.
“As an artist, you reveal your soul in your work,” says Isabel. “This is a very enriching way to form a long lasting and very satisfying relationship indeed. It can be complicated and intricate, but very much worthwhile!”
“My love life is embedded into all of my work,” says Ruben. “Like it or not, it’s the DNA of the artwork. Our creative tennis game ... is kept afloat by respect and passion, instinct and care, and many more ingredients, but at the core is that corny thing we can’t explain called love. It is as baffling as ever for me to put into words, but you sure can feel it.”
As Isabel promotes “Roots of Style” at this year’s Miami Book Fair International, she is also working on several design projects. In addition, the two have a 30-year retrospective exhibition at the Freedom Tower Museum in Miami.
“It’s full circle because it is being mounted in the very same building we both entered as children when we first came from Cuba,” says Isabel.
And as for the next inauguration, Ruben believes the First Lady will continue to advocate one of her most prominent features.
“Michelle Obama is so plugged into reality,” he says. "You can read it in her body language and this transcends style … I look forward to experiencing that in the next inauguration ceremony.”
You can reach Stephanie Nolasco via Twitter: @SNolasco