With geometric construction all over the fall runways, Isabel Toledo's influence has never been more potent.
During her recent tenure as women's-wear designer for Anne Klein, Toledo helped lead a return to precision tailoring and powerful silhouettes, and after decades of languishing in down-market anonymity, Anne Klein was fresh and relevant again. But the high-end collection didn't last long -- it was shuttered late last year after only two seasons, and Toledo was let go.
Now Toledo is back to designing her own line, which includes collaborating with her husband, artist Ruben Toledo. It's dressier: Prices begin at $1,200, but it is made by hand, with Ruben's father cutting the patterns. It's available at Barneys New York and Nordstrom.
The couple also find time to nurture young designers, including mentoring students at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. And Tuesday, Otis will host a Q&A with the couple at Pacific Design Studio.
No doubt, the questions will swirl around Anne Klein. The Cuban-born designer said she never imagined working for a major corporation, but "I did love that it was Anne Klein," she said. "Everybody had this connection to it."
Back on her own, Toledo said, "I'm running my company much the same way as when I began, as an independent. "I adore freedom."
Toledo's personal style is almost as famous as her design aesthetic. Her sophisticated (and never overtly sexy) look recalls the pragmatic glamour of Frida Kahlo, another rule-breaking Latina artist. Full skirts, wide pants and red lipstick are just a few of her trademarks -- ones that also hark back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. No wonder Los Angeles is one of her favorite towns.
Describe your style.
I have a certain look that's very Old World Spaniard. I do look severe. When I put anything on, it looks like I mean it. Even the most casual things look severe on me. I think it's my face.
What's a typical daily outfit for you?
I wear hand-me-down carpenter pants from Ruben. Not as a look, but for convenience. I don't wear jeans often, but Lee jeans have the best cut for women. They have a nice rise in back. I've been wearing them since high school.
You wear commanding footwear -- what do you look for in a pair of shoes?
They have to have authority. It's much more about a silhouette than ornamentation for me. I even wear men's shoes; I'll stuff them if they're big. But if I'm being vulnerable, I go all the way -- they're almost bare. They always have to be comfortable and fit. I like to have a good stride. I don't like to be restrained. Manolos are always amazing, [Sergio] Rossi, antique shoes.
Do you wear perfume?
I sometimes wear Chanel No. 5, which is a classic.
Do you carry a handbag?
I'm not a big bag lady. I have deep pockets. Even in an evening dress, I always design pockets, because my lipstick has to be there. I wear Chanel red lipstick, but I change my tones of red. After a certain age, I think you have to stick to one color.
What do you like most about L.A.?
I love the lighting and I love the relaxed feeling that people have. You feel it immediately.
Where do you like to stay?
Chateau Marmont is where we've been staying since we first came to Otis [in 1994]. I love old movies, and it's very old Hollywood.
Describe your perfect West Coast excursion.
We love to drive up the coastline and stop at Big Sur and sleep over at the Post Ranch Inn and then drive back. All that big nature still blows us away, and we never get to drive in New York.
Where do you eat?
I love to eat at the homes of friends -- they all cook insanely well and eat outdoors. It's very appetizing.
What L.A. stores do you like?
I like to shop for lingerie at [designer vintage outpost] Lily et Cie in Beverly Hills. It's a bit of old Hollywood.
"Inside the Designer's Studio" with Isabel and Ruben Toledo, Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Pacific Design Center's SilverScreen Theater. Tickets are $30, available through www.otis.edu.