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The House That Designer Zang Toi Built

From humble beginnings to renowned fashion designer, Zang Toi continues to be a man to watch. The designer, who has dressed celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Eva Longoria to Melinda Gates and even royalty, recently opened his first flagship boutique in New York. Here, the designer shares his story and inspiration.

Isaw 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 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 when I was again with Zang witnessing his stunning Spring 2019 collection in person at Saks Fifth Avenue in Phoenix. Lovingly dubbed “Vive Le Yves,” he designed the collection as a fan letter to his fashion hero, the late Yves Saint Laurent. It’s easy to see the iconic French designer’s influence—from the floor-length, tailored evening jackets over body-skimming gowns to the elegant ball gowns and opulent, jeweled collars. The final look was a black mini dress emblazoned with large pink butterflies for the woman who loves to make an entrance—it was simply marvelous.

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 37 years ago to study fashion design at Parsons School of Design. Highly motivated, he finished the rigorous four-year program in just three years. During his second year at Parsons, Zang 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, Zang started his own collection and, as they say, the rest is history.

With his successful career spanning decades, I naturally wanted to understand how Zang finds inspiration season after season. “I love traveling around the globe to find inspiration for my collections, but for Spring 2019 I decided to pay homage to my all-time favorite designer, Yves Saint Laurent,” he says. With so many collections under his belt, the award-winning designer can’t pick his favorite. “They all are like my children… every collection is a labor of love!”

Zang 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,” Zang tells me. “Three months later, I made my public debut in a mini kilt at the CFDA Gala, and it was a 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’s signature mini kilt was born!”

Not surprisingly, the award-winning designer spends his free time traveling around the world soaking up different cultures, and no doubt gathering design inspiration wherever he goes. In addition, the designer makes it a priority to spend quality time hanging out with his close-knit group of family and friends, who keep him grounded.

His response when asked what’s next for him and the House of Toi: “Keep creating gorgeous collections that make my beloved clients feel and look GORGEOUS!”

Rapid-Fire Questions

LAST BOOK YOU READ?

Zero to One: Notes on Start-ups or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel

IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMAL WHAT WOULD YOU BE?

Zebra

FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR?

Häagen-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

LAST MOVIE YOU SAW?

Crazy Rich Asians

COFFEE OR TEA?

Both, but I especially love House of Toi Tea with Yuzu by Harney & Sons

BEER OR WINE?

Neither

SUNRISE OR SUNSET?

Sunset

WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU CONSIDER ICONIC?

YSL “Le Smoking” looks

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