Isabel and Ruben Toledo. Photo: Karl Lagerfeld

What are two things that Maria Cornejo, Narciso Rodriguez and Isabel Toledo have in common? Well, all three designers are personal favorites of First Lady Michelle Obama, who personally chose to wear their garments during President Obama’s campaign. Toledo even created the outfit the First Lady wore to the Inaugural Ceremony. And the second thing? All three have been nominees or winners for the Cooper-Hewitt’s National Design Award for Fashion Design, which is given to an individual or firm for exceptional or exemplary work in apparel, accessories or footwear. Isabel Toledo won the award in 2005, with Maria Cornejo winning the award the following year. Narciso Rodriguez has been nominated for the award three times (2003, 2004, and 2007).

We could even say that these designers have a third aspect in common – their design muse is the modern American woman, epitomized by Michelle Obama. She is a professional, a mother, a wife, and now a symbol of the American Woman. Maria Cornejo says “For me it’s great because I can relate to her life and what she’s wearing. She’s the same age as me, and she’s a working woman with two children.” (1)

Excellent design is a hallmark of all of these designers. Toledo’s garments are often intellectual yet feminine, while Cornejo’s stretch fabrics and bold colors make her functional dresses daily necessities. Rodriguez uses impeccable seaming and piecing to make deceptively simple garments that streamline a woman’s body. Garments by all of these designers make a woman look her best.

A few of us in the textile department were wondering why First Lady Obama hasn’t yet worn anything by the 2008 National Design Award Winner for Fashion, Ralph Rucci. She would look absolutely stunning in one of Rucci’s luxurious, yet functional day dresses, or his exquisite couture evening gowns. Rucci’s work demands a poised, confident woman – all qualities First Lady Obama has.

(1) Kenya Hunt, “She’s Obama’s Favorite,” Metro, 27 January 2009, 8.

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