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The House That Boutique Fashion Designer Zang Toi Built

and KAITLYN BEICKEL
photography by NITA LOYELTY

couture fashion designer Zang Toi
From humble beginnings to renowned boutique fashion designer, Zang Toi continues to be a man to watch.

The famed boutique fashion designer, who has dressed celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Eva Longoria, Farrah Fawcett, Melinda Gates and even royalty, just celebrated 30 years with his namesake brand in New York. Here, the designer shares his story and inspiration.

“I was a boutique fashion designer for three months, the one dress from my very first collection got into Vogue magazine,” Toi says. “Thanks to Anna and her team, she literally put me on the fashion map.”

I first saw my first Zang Toi runway show on a cold day in February of 2007 when New York Fashion Week was still held in tents at Bryant Park. I was impressed by the impeccable construction and elegant styles that are the hallmark of Toi’s designs. Not long after, I met the distinguished boutique fashion designer in person at a trunk show showcasing his latest collection and was immediately taken by his kind and gracious nature. It’s easy to see why his high-profile clients are loyal fans.

Fast forward to today, Zang Toi’s 2021 collection is inspired by his love for his favorite city, Paris, and features soft and romantic pastel colors like Paris Pink, French Lavender, Marie Antoinette Yellow and a rosy-pink floral print called “Paris My Love.” Having visited Paris more than 30 times in his life, Toi was guided by his many memories of his trips there, while designing the collection during lockdown.

Paris My Love collection from Zang Toi

It all started on the other side of the globe. Toi was born and raised in a small village in Malaysia, the youngest of seven children. Zang moved to New York City 40 years ago to study fashion design at Parsons School of Design.

new fashion from designer Zang Toi

Highly motivated, the boutique fashion designer finished the rigorous four-year pro-gram in just three years. During his second year at Parsons, Toi began working full-time for fashion designer Mary Jane Marcasiano, where he learned the ins and outs of the business. After graduation, he continued with Marcasiano for another five years, honing his skills.

In August 1989, ready to share his vision with the world, Toi started his own Zang Toi collection and, as they say, the rest was history.

Shortly after the launch of his very first collection, he got a call from Susi Billingsley, Fashion Market Director at Vogue, who let him know that Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour had seen his collection and loved what she saw. The following day, Susi came at 9 am to take polaroid photos of Toi’s collection to share with Anna.

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Paris Pink fashion from designer Zang Toi

“Two hours later, she called back, and she said ‘Congratulations, Anna really loved the collection. We know you just started, and you need to do business; we need to borrow the entire collection tomorrow at 8 am, and we will return it by 5,” Toi says.

When the collection was returned to Zang Toi, three of the 13 pieces were missing. His phone rang again, and he learned that Vogue was keeping Anna’s favorite pieces for two weeks to take to Morocco for a photo shoot. After the pieces were returned to him, Toi was excited to discover that his collection would be featured in the March 1990 is-sue of Vogue.

“I was a boutique fashion designer for three months, the one dress from my very first collection got into Vogue magazine,” Toi says. “Thanks to Anna and her team, she literally put me on the fashion map.”

Zang Toi Fall 2021 fashion

With his successful career spanning decades, I naturally wanted to understand how Toi finds inspiration season after season. “I love traveling around the globe to find inspira-tion for my collections,” he says. With so many collections under his belt, the award-winning designer has a hard time picking his favorite, but he has a soft spot for his French designs.

“One of my favorite collections is my Fall 2003 collection; it is beautiful, very romantic, and it was also French inspired,” Zang Toi says “That was the year that I met the late Farrah Fawcett.”

fall fashion in Marie Antoinette Yellow from Zang Toi

Toi is known for his strong sense of personal style and, in particular, his signature kilt. “I decided to dedicate my Fall 2001 collection, ‘Asians in Scotland’ to my two older brothers, who studied at Heriot-Watt University and Sterling University in Scotland. The kilted look was naturally part of the collection, and I decided to wear a mini version of the kilt myself for my grand finale walk at the runway show,” says the boutique fashion designer.

“Three months later, I made my public debut in a mini kilt at the CFDA Gala, and it was huge hit on the red carpet! The late Bill Cunningham (famed New York Times photographer) featured me and my date with the largest photo in the paper… and Zang Toi’s signature mini kilt was born!”

When young designers ask Toi how they can be successful as a boutique fashion designer, his answer is simple: hard work.

elegant fall 2021 fashion from Zang Toi

“The key to success is hard work, it doesn’t matter whatever profession you choose,” Toi says. “Let’s face it, there are a lot of very intelligent people, a lot of geniuses out there, a lot of very talented designers out there, but if you’re going to work and put in the hours, it will put you a few steps in front of somebody else.”

Zang Toi’s response when asked what’s next for him: “I’m continuing to make the la-dies who are supporting me be as beautiful as I can, making them feel beautiful and special. Hopefully, someday I can retire and then travel around the world and do some charity work.”

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Playing Favorites with Zang
Playing Favorites with Zang

LAST BOOK YOU READ?
How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel
IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMAL, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
Zebra
FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR?
Haagen Dazs Coffee
FAVORITE RESTAURANT?
Le Grand Véfour in Paris
WHO WOULD PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE?
Too soon to decide
MORNING OR NIGHT PERSON?
Night
WHAT ANNOYS YOU MOST?
Messiness and laziness
IF YOU COULD TRADE LIVES WITH ANYONE FOR A DAY?
Marie Antoinette
SUNRISE OR SUNSET?
Sunset
WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU CONSIDER ICONIC? YSL “Le Smoking” looks

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