It was in the spring of 2010 when I first had the pleasure of meeting Zang Toi. When you work for a luxury retailer, you quickly become accustomed with the news of the latest trunk shows, designer trainings and visits from various line representatives. When I walked into one of our associates wearing an absolutely stunning linked crystal neckpiece that went from her chin to gently cascading over her shoulders, I had no idea what I was in for. Then someone mentioned the words “Zang Toi must be here today,” and we were all ushered upstairs. There, amidst some of the most beautiful dresses constructed of stunning textiles and draped against the dress forms to perfection stood Zang Toi. He was furiously adjusting his temporary showroom making sure no detail was missed…while wearing a white t- shirt and what I would soon find out to be his trademark, a black velvet kilt.
I stayed after the introductory meeting lusting over one of the most meticulously crafted gowns I had ever seen, peeking inside trying to break it down and trying to understand his construction process. He kept stealing curious glances at me in between throwing out a new sketch which is when I decided to introduce myself. After he took the time to answer a few questions, I fell in love with his passion, his talent and his approachability. He quickly climbed as one of my favorite designers who I follow like men follow Fantasy Football teams.
Zang Toi shows his collections twice yearly at Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week and was awarded the prestigious Mouton Cadet Young Designer Award Brand Names/Divisions in 1990. Still, despite his growing fame and famous clientele, he makes it a point to travel to his trunk shows and meet his adoring clients face to face. Never ceasing to amaze me after some Facebook and Twitter banter, Zang Toi graciously agreed to chat with me and provide some insight into his world for the Indianapolis Fashion Collective.
Growing up in your native Malaysia, you had to make the tough choice of staying with your family business or pursuing your love of fashion. How did you make that decision and how did it affect your family?
As a kid I always loved to sketch, so going into fashion was a no-brainer for me. I decided to follow my creative path and my family is very supportive. They just want me to be happy.
Moving to New York City at the young age of 18 must have been overwhelming, how did you adapt to the new lifestyle and how did the move impact your design?
I fell in love with New York City the moment I got here. I immediately knew it was going to be my home, there is no other place like New York City. I am inspired every day because there is so much creative energy in the city.
I admire the way you take pieces of your native Malaysia and incorporate it into your collections, whether it’s subtle or a primary focus. Would you say this happens organically or is intentional?
I like to work with different themes for every collection. Malaysia is culturally rich and since it is where I grew up, it’s not a surprise you would see it in my designs. However, I’d say it’s more of a coincidence than intentional. I really enjoy designing every collection and having fun at the same time.
Can you describe the essence of “Zang Toi” in a few words?
Timeless beauties that are uniquely chic and glamorous.
Fashion Design seems to be the hot field for young artists. With the advancements in technology it is becoming a harder field to break into, especially with larger amounts of competition. What advice would you give to young designers to rise above their counterparts and stand out?
Always follow your own path, do your own thing, never follow the trend. The hardest part of staying true to yourself in the world of fashion is being able to find the balance between creating something unique and being able to sell it at the same time.
When you look at pieces, what makes you say, “Wow! That’s a good design!”
Pieces that have unique design with a refined craftsmanship. It doesn’t look like anyone else’s piece or design, it has an identity.
When I mentioned to some fellow Indianapolis fashionistas that I was going to be talking with you, conversation quickly turned to your latest selection for Fall 2011 and the bold choice of emerald green. Nikki Blaine, a local Indianapolis designer, wanted to know how you came to choose such a bold color to mix with neutrals.
I have always loved to incorporate one or two bold colors as accents to my collections. I was doing my inspirational research on gems and royal jewelry when I came across this beautiful photo of an emerald. I was hooked.
There has been a lot of press lately in light of the Galliano debacle as well as Decarnin’s absence and leave from Balmain, about the extreme stress designers are under. Gabrielle Poshadlo, a well known Indianapolis fashion writer, wants to know how you cope with the extreme stress that designers are under?
I am lucky because in a way, I am my own boss. I do not have to answer to any board members or investors which relieves a lot of that stress. When it comes to working with my creative team, I’m very specific and I decide every detail that goes into my garments. I will ask my assistants for feedback if I have doubts but I am always hands on when it comes to designing the collections. I love what I do without really having to answer to anybody. I would say maintaining a fashion business is much more challenging than any design work.
This may be cheating but I can’t wait to see your next collection. Can you give us any sneak peak or insight into what you’re working on?
I am still toying with a few ideas for Spring 2012. One thing is for sure, I’m always inspired by different places and cultures of the world. Be prepared to see something I have never done before!