Isabel Toledo Talks Michelle Obama's Inauguration Dress and Her New Payless Line

When she's not designing for dance gods Twyla Tharp and Christopher Wheeldon, Isabel Toledo spends her time looking like an Almodovar character. Think lots of red, black, and beautiful bone structure.

Otherwise, the Cuban-born fashion designer and artist is best known for creating Michelle Obama's shimmery, pale yellow inauguration dress. And yesterday, Toledo introduced a new line of shoes and handbags for Payless ShoeSource. The collection will not only be sold in Payless stores, but will also be available from high-style hotspot Colette in Paris.

Cultist met with Toledo at the W South Beach for a chat about her look, her philosophy, getting her hands dirty, and those shoes.

New Times: Can you describe your new collection for Payless ShoeSource?

Isabel Toledo: Practical elegance is the description of the new collection. It's very modern. It's graphic. It's clean, comfortable, stylish. It's high style at a great price. It's the shoe that every woman can use. It's not just a whim. It really is a practical shoe that you can use. You still can look great even if it's raining.

Who's the audience for the new line?

Every woman is my audience. I mean, it's me and I am every woman. It's what I keep telling everyone. This is all about the different moods of a woman. It's the sportier woman, the elegant woman. It's your body language. What do you want to look like today? So, it's really a broad audience, and it's an audience that's smart because they know they can get this for a good price.

How would you describe your personal style?

I don't think I can describe my personal style. It's so complex. I have so many different "Me"-s, and that's the beauty of what I do. I can dress for every single mood that I have. But my personal style, I think if I have one thing to say, it's that I'm very grounded. I'm a woman that's very grounded. I do get my hands dirty.

What inspires you generally?

Life. This moment. What you've told me about your name. I don't know how it's going to turn out in the work that I do tomorrow. You know, everything inspires you when you're an artist. You're constantly absorbing. So it's always, as an artist, you're just open. You always have to be open to what's coming and what's in front of you. You don't limit, you don't structure inspiration.

I have to ask, were you at the inauguration?

I got an invitation, which I still have up on my wall, but I didn't go. I stayed in the studio with the ladies. I think that moment belonged to them as well as me. And it was so important to be able experience it on TV, even more because you got to experience not just Michelle, but that visual of what it looked like. The close up of everybody's face was important to me. It's funny ... I just wanted to step away and see it like everybody else.

Isabel Toledo Talks Michelle Obama's Inauguration Dress and Her New Payless Line

I went and it was the coldest, most treacherous day I've ever experienced.

That's one of the things she said, "Please make sure it's warm." That was one of the requirements. That garment is layered in pashmina. It's got all of these different layers, so she felt warm.

What kind are you involved in culturally other than fashion?

I'm involved less in fashion than almost everything else. Fashion is the business. I'm an artist; I create. I create with my hands. I get involved in projects that are charities. But if it's anything that I can be used as a maker, I'm there. Even if it's planting a tree. And again at the end of the day, culture is the experience of people one on one, you know, the dialogue you have with people. That's culture, and that's what I do every day, and what we all do.

The Isabel Toledo for Payless line of shoes and handbags will be available in stores beginning September 7.


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