By  on July 24, 2008

Scads of Isabel Toledo’s devotees waited patiently on the sidewalk Tuesday night to take the claustrophobic elevator ride to her 28th Street penthouse in Manhattan. At one point, even a police cruiser pulled up to see what all the commotion was about.

Partygoers turned out to toast Toledo for being this year’s recipient of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Couture Council Award for Artistry for Fashion, and for the Museum at FIT’s 2009 exhibition of her work. Vera Wang, Simon Doonan, Cynthia Rowley, Maria Cornejo, Narciso Rodriguez, Linda Fargo and Nicole Fischelis were among those who braved the non-air-conditioned space and, in some cases, 11 flights of stairs, to get there. Toledo’s illustrator husband Ruben greeted well-wishers at the door and immediately handed them fans with a sketch of his wife. Many admired other pieces of his work, which adorn their cavernous studio with a sweeping view of the Empire State Building.

In her remarks, Harper’s Bazaar’s editor in chief Glenda Bailey referred to the design duo as “New York’s chicest couple” and said, “I can’t help but think if Isabel didn’t exist, Ruben would have created her.”

Later, co-host Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at FIT, told WWD, “Isabel is someone who understands the artistry and craftsmanship of fashion, and not that many designers do.”

Rodriguez said he and the Toledos attended the same high school, but only became friendly once they started out and were running in the same circles. Tuesday’s party gave Michael Vollbracht the chance to introduce himself to Rodriguez and to pile on the praise, and Rodriguez made it clear the feeling was mutual. “See, some designers really do like each other,” Vollbracht offered. “And are nice to each other,” Rodriguez added.

There was no shortage of compliments for the guest of honor, whom FIT will fete during a fashion week luncheon. She described the occasion as “a stamp of approval” more than anything. She said, “I really think the Couture Council has brought a lot of attention to our industry and to individuals. It’s not just about the big corporate fashion world, which is how we look at American fashion. They are looking at individuals.”

As Toledo continues to design for private clients until she is officially free from Jones Apparel Group in October, Michelle Obama is one individual who could help cast her fate. The presumptive Democratic presidential candidate’s wife started buying Toledo’s designs at Ikram in Chicago and has since contacted the designer about collaborating. Toledo said, “I am putting together a few things to send to her — some dresses, skirts and pants. Frankly, if I could dress her at home, I would be a happy woman. That’s the plan — to get into the White House.” �

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