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Zang Toi

        zang_toi.jpg        240px-zang_toi_fashion_designer_malaysia.jpg

(in answer.com)

Born: Malaysia, 11 June 1961.  

Education: Studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design, New York, 1981-83.  

Career: Production associate, Mary Jane Marcasiano, New York, 1982-87; freelance designer, Ronaldus Shamask, New York, 1988; opened own business, 1989, introduced diffusion line Z, 1992.  

Exhibitions: Fashion Institute of Technology Museum.  Awards: Mouton-Cadet Young Designer award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, 1990.  

Address: 30 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019, USA. 

Zang Toi has the dubious distinction of being a featured designer in a Newsday article of October 1990, “Fashion’s New Kids: On the Block,” and of being a principal in Nina Darnton’s article “The New York Brat Pack,” in the April 1991 issue of Newsweek. In the Newsweek article, Zang Toi had the last word, telling Darnton, “I think women are looking for good prices and styles that are new—not just young people in the same mold as the current stars.” Likewise, in the Newsday article, Toi’s pragmatic and sensible remarks form the article’s conclusion when he says, “There are so many young designers who are eager to be stars right away. But ego can be the worst killer to any young designer. You can’t let the press and the hype go to your head. If the work doesn’t meet the demand and the quality, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Toi’s work resoundingly meets demand and determined desires and styles in the early 1990s. The gifted young designer has demonstrated a color sensibility related not only to Asian textiles (the collection that earned him the Mouton-Cadet Young Designer award was inspired by Southeast Asian textiles, with rich batiks and embroideries) but perhaps equally to Matisse in his vibrant palette. Toi’s color is often and aptly compared to Christian Lacroix’s, but Toi has brought his tinted exuberance to serviceable sportswear separates while Lacroix tends toward almost baroque forms of highly elaborated couture. For Lacroix, the pleasure is in the whole and design by ensemble; in Toi’s work, the delights are in the elements. Even within, his ingenious and extravagant details give punctuation with whimsy. Well-cut jackets, saucy skirts and shorts, spunky sarong skirts with ornament, wonderful vests and trousers provide a sensible dressing from constituents rich in color and texture. As much as Toi loves glamor, he also created a diffusion line, Z, launched in 1992, that luxuriates in denim and less expensive fabrication.

Toi did not set out to be a designer. Growing up as the youngest son of seven children of a grocer in a small town in Malaysia, he loved sketching and drawing but dreamed of being an architect or interior designer. His love of fashion came later and always in conjunction with cuisine and other pleasurable arts. He admits to wanting to combine fashion and running a restaurant. Like many designers, however, a lifetime interest in classic movie glamor and stars such as Audrey Hepburn encouraged his fashion interests. The Malay tradewinds have always brought rich interactions of British colonialism (apparent in Toi’s schoolboy stripes), Chinese, Indonesian, and other converging possibilities. Exoticism and pragmatic synthesis seem to come effortlessly to Toi.

In the West, we have traditionally enjoyed an adulation of the new, and Zang Toi is a new designer. But his merit and interest reside in the fact that his design is distinguished not by novelty but by his intense commitment to color. His fashion draws eclectically and with an absorbing anachronism on history and global fashion, always keeping his international eye for color. His practicality and sensitivity to the consumer are hallmarks of smart design for the 1990s and the 21st century beyond. Infinitely personable and charming, Toi, like many Western designers, is a social mixer and has a gregarious personality. Lauren Ezersky wrote, “I love Zang. Everybody loves Zang. He truly is one of the nicest designers on the scene today. And his designs are as fabulous as his gams, which he displays on a regular basis by wearing shorts.

In a fiercely competitive and fickle industry, Toi has flourished as a high society and movie star fashion designer. His commitment to luxury, beauty, and glamor continued to be evident in his designs, which made him the obvious choice to create a millennium gown for Melinda Gates (Mrs. Bill Gates). Whether the theme is the wild, wild West, inspired by a Montana trip (spring 2001), or “An Asian in Scotland” (fall 2001), his collections are executed in the finest fabrics and characterized by his signature use of color and attention to detail. His fall showing was one of the few to receive a standing ovation and praise from the New York fashion critics.

A favorite of Madonna, Sharon Stone, Ivana Trump, and Kirstie Alley, Toi is reaching out to their significant others by introducing a limited men’s line for fall 2001. “This is really for the husbands and boyfriends of my private customers. They are the ones who pay for the clothes.” Like his women’s clothes, the new line is handmade or hand-knit and uses luxury fibers like cashmere and silk.Zang Toi has held fast to his vision of fashion, despite an era of increasing informality and casual dress. “It is not a separate thing outside you, but something that flows out from inside you. That is why my clothes, my home, and my showroom all reflect a core that comes from the same source—a beauty that I see and feel and which takes its form in the look and feel of my creations and in the space where I live and work.” No longer the new kid on the block, Zang Toi continues to inspire and delight and remind us of what fashion and glamor are really all about. 

Zang Toi:

At the house of Toi, it all starts with color. Lavish hues of chartreuse, red, and hot pink…which, theoretically, should never be seen together. Here they have been combined masterfully with a flair and wit that has won the hearts of both critics and customers alike. Breaking the rules is what I do best. I try not to limit my thinking to the way things have been done before—my customers have come to expect the unexpected. Pioneering in dressing up good old all-American denim—in splashy red and hot pink stitching—and [adding] metalic gold stitching to sexy suits and little bustier dresses is the chicest way to dress.The Zang Toi formula is creating glamorous, tailored, classic sportswear with a dramatic twist; with a surprising mixed palette and signature design finishes. Evening at Zang Toi means haute fantasy with a dash of old Hollywood glamor.It is always a dream of mine to merge my fashion sense with fine food…. Food is like fashion; clothes are just a piece of cloth until you add the decoration and the look, then it becomes fashion. The same with food—once you start decorating it becomes appetizing. My personal philosophy is that beautiful food and clothes should always be a part of life

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Pride of the family

 

It was a long and rocky road from Kuala Krai to New York, Zang Toi tells CHIN MUI YOON, and he made it, thanks to his family.

THE International Centre of New York last year honoured Zang Toi with an award given to foreign individuals who have made significant contributions to the United States.  Not bad for a boy from Kelantan whose father, Toi Han Eng, now 81, ran a small grocery store in Kuala Krai and who was 13 when he made his first visit to the “big” city of Kuala Lumpur. (The family moved to Petaling Jaya, Selangor, 10 years ago.)  But as his mother remembers well, her youngest child was an incessant scribbler who loved to draw from a young age.  “When we told him to do his homework, Zang would say his hands were weak; when it came to drawing, they were fine!” recounts Foo Chin Chik, 79.  Zang, whose full name is Toi See Zang, 45, remains rooted to his humble beginnings and maintains very close ties with his family.  Back home for a jam-packed fortnight recently, he managed to take his father to visit their ancestral home in Hainan, China, while juggling a trip to Mumbai, India, to oversee the beading and embroidery work for his upcoming show in New York on Feb 9; holding a private fashion show in KL and meeting clients, including the Raja Perempuan of Kelantan to prepare for a Kelantanese Cuisine Festival planned for the United Nations in April. 

Mama’s boy  Among his parents‘ seven children, Zang was and is still the apple of his parents’ eye, says sixth sibling Toi See Luon.  “Zang always got away with everything,” says See Luon, who manages the boutique in Kuala Lumpur. Zang happily chirps that he was never ever caned, unlike his older siblings.  “While we were growing up in Kelantan, television was a luxury. Instead of doing homework, we used to sneak out at night through the back door to watch Charlie’s Angels on our neighbour’s TV while my father was counting up his takings for the day,” he recalls.  Years later, he dresses a Charlie’s Angel (Farrah Fawcett). But some things never change: “My mother still treats me like the baby of the family!” Zang chortles. 

Seeds of success   Zang knew early that he wanted to do fashion designing although he had toyed with the idea of interior designing or cooking. His parents saved enough to send him to Parsons School of Design in New York, where its alumni include Tom Ford, Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs.  Zang’s achievements were fashioned from sheer hard work most that was unseen. As one of Parsons’ best students, he was recommended a part-time job with designer Mary Jane Marcasiano to earn pocket money.  Zang worked so well he was asked to assist Marcasiano directly.  “They gave me complete freedom and sent me to the factory where I took care of the whole production and design process. I was like a sponge, soaking up everything about fashion designing!” says Zang.  For two years, Zang, then 23, breathed and lived fashion. He attended classes from 9am till 4pm and rushed for the subway to the Marcasiano studio in the SoHo district. While his peers partied and clubbed, Zang laboured from 5pm till early morning.   “So many times I fell asleep on the train. I also worked weekends. My work ethic came from my father, he was so strict and nothing came easy for the family.”  Zang graduated in 1983. Offers came immediately from prestigious fashion houses, among them, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Michael Kors who dangled carrots of fat salaries and a green card.   “I said no thanks because in a small company I could do everything,” says Zang who went on to work with Marcasiano for three more years.  He freelanced for a year when his designs were carried by Martha, one of the best multi-brand salon boutiques in New York that’s credited with launching designers like Valentino and Gianfranco Ferre.  In 1989, Zang sent his sketches of his first collection of 13 dresses to various magazines. The highly influential Vogue magazine spotted the young, unknown designer’s potential and sent for the dresses which appeared in the magazine two months later.  When Zang launched his Spring collection, Vogue carried a big feature on it for its “New Faces” March 1990 issue. That same year, one year after starting his boutique, Zang was awarded the Mouton Cadet Young Designer Award.   “I had a partner who invested US$50,000 (RM176,000) to start our boutique; I didn’t have a dime then!” Zang says. “I was making US$2,500 (RM8,778) yearly, barely enough for my living.   “Martha salon buyers asked me to fill in for a trunk show and promised to get me a big order. I did the show on Park Avenue three days later. Nobody knew me. But I got an order worth US$80,000 (RM281,000) from those two days!   “That show and Vogue had launched my career 18 years ago.”  Many of Zang’s design inspirations are Malaysian, from exotic orchids to the kebaya and batik block designs.  

Near disaster  Despite the early successes, Zang came close to quitting 11 years ago when his partner opted out of the business and he was at a loss.   His brothers came to his rescue. See Luon, who is a trained accountant, and another sibling immediately flew to New York to help their little brother negotiate the terms of splitting the flourishing business and to reorganise things.  “They saved me,” says Zang. “I was ready to give up, close shop and work for somebody. I didn’t know a thing about running a business; I was only familiar with designing.”  See Luon caught the fashion bug and went on to manage the KL boutique and the cafés that followed later in Sungai Wang Plaza and Lot 10.  “My sweetest childhood memory was growing up in a big happy family,” says Zang. “Of course we fought, there were seven of us and six are boys! My parents cooked all the time and we always ate together.   “But I don’t remember ever eating a meal on our own. My parents always invited a friend from a poor family to join us although we didn’t have much. They have both set a good example with their generosity. I give all credit to what I have today to my parents.  “No matter how exhausted or busy my mother was, every night she would spend 20 to 30 minutes to tell us a bedtime story. They were sometimes about how she grew up in difficult times; living through the war, how her mother died when she was only seven, about hard times.   “I always believe that the most fortunate thing I have is the love of my family. It sounds cliché, but it laid a solid foundation for who I am today.”  And the first people who had believed in their little baby had been Zang’s parents. His name, after all, means “winning”.