“We must use color to solve problems,” Thierry Mugler states in Be-Spoke, a compendium of quotations uttered to Marylou Luther by 72 designers, from Coco Chanel to Virgil Abloh, during her 70 years as a fashion journalist.
When it came time to illustrate the book, artist Ruben Toledo seems to have followed Mugler’s dictate. The Mugler entry, for example, is accompanied by variegated silhouettes of Mugler-clad ladies, spinning in kaleidoscopic patterns. To visualize Gianni Versace’s remarks about his hopes for a pollution-free future, Toledo lets loose a flock of rainbow-plumed birds, flying in Escher-like formation alongside two airborne divas, bedecked as brightly as their avian escorts.
Though, as Toledo notes, in his hands “even black ink on paper becomes colorful,” he is as adept at conjuring up a dark atmosphere as he is at deploying a prismatic palette. Opposite Alexander McQueen’s remark that “fear is my best friend,” Toledo depicts a coven of zombie-eyed damsels in cobweb dresses parading beneath, or hoisted aloft by, a cauldron of bats. The book’s most exquisite picture portrays Toledo’s late wife of 35 years, Isabel, talking to her sewing machines. “Painting and drawing keep my dream life with her going,” he says.
Leaving almost no page unembellished, Toledo has adorned the endpapers of Be-Spoke with stylistically varied portraits of all the designers, their faces lined up like photos in a “marvelous fashion-high-school yearbook,” Toledo says. His likeness of Michael Kors channels Van Gogh and Hockney; his depiction of Diane von Furstenberg suggests a Renaissance princess; his rendering of Emilio Pucci resembles a Gothic-stained-glass prophet; while his monochromatic image of Bill Blass recalls the incisive character studies of German Expressionism.
All Toledo’s work in Be-Spoke will be sold “to raise funds for several good causes, including a scholarship set up at F.I.T. by our amazing friends at Fashion Group International in Isabel’s name to help students pay tuition,” he says. Toledo hopes that the “magic alchemy of fashion”—so keenly illuminated by him in Be-Spoke—will boost the mood of every reader. “Fashion first exists in the mind,” he observes. “Then nature obliges.” —Amy Fine Collins
Amy Fine Collins is an Editor at Large for AIR MAIL.She is the author of The International Best-Dressed List: The Official Story