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The design duo of Isabel and Ruben Toledo have just polished off a three-week stay deep in the woods of Washington state as artists-in-residence at the Dale Chihuly-founded Pilchuck Glass School. What they did on their summer vacation — if you can call it that — will be auctioned at the school’s Oct. 23 annual fund-raiser, a favorite stop for glass art collectors and one the husband-and-wife team will co-chair. Here, the designers chat with WWD about the experience.
WWD: How did you hear about Pilchuck and had you worked with glass before?
This story first appeared in the August 28, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Ruben Toledo: We were turned on to Pilchuck by our friends at Nordstrom, when they staged an Isabel Toledo fashion show at Dale Chihuly’s boathouse studio [in 2004]. The glass-blowing demonstration blew us away. We had no experience at all with glass. When we were invited to Pilchuck, we approached it like an open book — we took a dive into the pool of glass to see what would happen organically, with no preconceived ideas. We simply observed the master blowers and the students and took it from there.
WWD: Do glass and fashion design have much in common?
Isabel Toledo: They surprisingly do. I work directly with the cloth the way blowers work the hot glass — it must be done fast and instinctively, letting gravity do most of the work to really get the most out of the material. In my case, it could be silk jersey. At Pilchuck, it was glass.
WWD: What did you work on at Pilchuck ?
I.T.: We did it all. Ruben painted and drew our glass ideas and students and master blowers did their interpretations. We collaborated with every glass department. We experimented with casting drawings on glass and making glass-pattern vessels from my original dress patterns. We really did take advantage of all the facilities. It was a real crash course in glass.
WWD: What was a typical day?
R.T.: We woke up for breakfast at 7:45 a.m., when the cowbell rang. Then [we were] off to our studios. Isabel and I had adjoining studio cabins but we ended up working in one together, and the other we called “the cemetery” where the ideas and experiments that were not ready for prime time went to live. Our doors and windows were always open, and students would pop in with ideas and questions.
The day was like a whirlwind of art and ideas. The dinner cowbell went off at 6 p.m. The food was amazing and could not be missed — everyone ran to the Lodge [dining room] in their work wear. Then back to work until midnight. The whole place never stops. Since you’re working practically outdoors with deer prancing by, it’s a real pagan pleasure.
WWD: What were the rustic accommodations like?
I.T.: We had our own private wedding cabin in the woods, so that no one could find us. On the weekend we moved up the mountain even further to Dale Chihuly’s original cabin with an incredible view. We could see the fog rolling in from the Pacific. We saw a major meteor shower plus saw the aurora borealis.
WWD: What did you learn about fashion design from working with glass ?
I.T.: Glass is both fragile and hardy, like fashion.