Isabel Toledo, Designer for Michelle Obama, Dies at 59

Fashion designer outfitted first lady in lemongrass dress and coat for 2009 inauguration

Barack Obama Michelle Obama Isabel Toledo
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Isabel Toledo, the fashion designer who outfitted former first lady Michelle Obama for President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, died Monday at age 59. Toledo’s husband Ruben said the cause of death was breast cancer.

The Cuban-born Toledo gained international fame when Michelle Obama wore her lemongrass dress and matching coat to Barack Obama’s first inauguration in January 2009.

Toledo began sewing when she was 8 years old and emigrated to the United States as a young teen. She attended both the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design in New York City, but left to intern for Diana Vreeland at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“I’m not supposed to say I’m not a fashion person, but I’m not. I just, I love design,” she told CNN in 2012. “Design is so different than fashion. That’s why design lasts forever. It’s like an engineer. I love to engineer a garment.”

Toledo and her husband collaborated on her early collections. In 2006, she was named creative director for Anne Klein, but left the company the following year. In 2014, she created a line of plus-size apparel for Lane Bryant.

The designer’s passing was mourned by the fashion community.

Elle magazine editor and “Project Runway” judge Nina Garcia called Toledo a “rainbow of talent of joy.”

Fashion designer Peter Som described her as “a fashion idol of mine and many.”

Prabal Gurung called her a “designer’s designer.”