If you’ve never been to a Zang Toi fashion show then you’ve missed incredible works of timeless beauty. Rarely, in the current incarnation of fashion shows to audiences watch in amazement, stand up and cheer, applaud for several minutes at the display of masterpieces of wearable art. Then again, this is the Wonderful World of Zang Toi.
Fashion Reverie was privileged to have a conversation with Zang Toi right before his dynamic runway show that was a part of the Beth Israel Breast Cancer Luncheon.
Fashion Reverie: We all know you came from humble beginnings in Malaysia to study fashion design at Parsons, so coming from such a humble background what gave you the courage to become a designer, particularly a luxury designer?
Zang Toi: I always knew I wanted to have a creative career. As a young child I loved to draw and sketch, so I thought I would have a career in the fine arts.
It is very common for Malaysian to go abroad to further their education. I first went to Canada to study and then I moved to Parsons to study fashion design. Originally, I pursued a career in interior design; however, through a series of incidences I switched to fashion design.
Zang Toi: My design is very chic, classic and sophisticated. My clothes are timeless, investment pieces for women that want a touch of elegance and are not afraid to make a statement. I’m one of the few independent American high-end designers that have survived the recession. Last year we had a 57% increase in sales and this season are sales are already up 70%.
FR: What do you credit this dramatic increase in sales to?
Zang Toi: For three months we travel from city to city doing trunks shows and I am personally present for all of the shows. I have gotten to know all my customers individually from these trunk show appearances. Some designers make the mistake of trying to be a rock star or a celebrity designer. I am more concentrated on giving good quality service to my customers. My clients are far wealthier than me and they know quality products and good service. I have loyal customers that will come into our showroom and in one outing spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, the combination of a quality product and tactile interaction with my customer base is increasing our sales.
FR: All of your clothes are made in the US. Could you speak about that?
Zang Toi: Every garment is made in my workspace in NYC. I have loyal employees who have been with me for over 15 years. I have a very good team and we have a very good product. When women wear my clothes out to an event or even as a part of their daily wardrobe, they demand attention and get noticed. Everyone thinks they are wearing clothes from a European couture house.
FR: Compared to last season where you used more neutrals with dashes of green, why did you use imperial red this season and more color in general?
Zang Toi: The inspiration for fall/winter 2012 really came from Gstaad, the famous ski resort in Switzerland. All the famous jet setting celebrities from Audrey Hepburn to Elizabeth Taylor used to vacation there. So you can see the ski aesthetic in the winter white we use in the collection. We always use a basic black in our collections and I wanted to light up the runway toward the end of the show with dramatic, bold splashes of ruby and imperial red. As you know in some Asian cultures, imperial red is a symbol of good luck.
FR: When you use color it’s always bold splashes of color, could you talk about that?
Zang Toi: Three months before our fall/winter 2012 show at Lincoln Center during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week I decided I wanted to do a mini Adele concert. My music director thought I was going crazy. But I felt that combined with the dramatic red colorations, and the overall inspiration for the collection, an homage, of sorts, to Adele would produce an incredible impact for the audience. I wanted to create theatre, which is something you don’t normally see in fashion productions in NYC. The combination of bold colors and great music lends itself to the Zang Toi experience.
FR: In your current collection there were bold, dramatic pieces but also easy daytime pieces.
Zang Toi: We have great dramatic showpieces in our collection, but the bread and butter of the House of Zang Toi is the fine-tailored suits. We also use Loro Piana cashmere in many of our garments. When you give a consumer who has everything the best of the best, they keep coming back.
FR: You also like to use a lot of silk.
Zang Toi: I have clients that can afford anything they want, and they want the best of the best; so it is a given that we use silk, as well as other expensive fabrics. I am on the road doing trunk shows for both seasons, making myself available for my clients. Over time I have learned what my clients want and what their lifestyle is. I have tapped into that customer where money is not an object; however, if they are going to spend a lot of money, the product must be top drawer.
FR: Why would a consumer choose a Zang Toi garment over other luxury designers?
Zang Toi: A fashion critic once said “When you wear Zang Toi, you don’t just go to a party, you arrive.” Women are always stopped and admired at events, in the airport, really anywhere when they are wearing my clothes. My female customers love my garments and their husbands love the way they look in Zang Toi. The husbands of my clients always tell me that they get more attention when their wives are wearing Zang Toi. So, if the wives and husbands are pleased, I must be doing something right.
FR: What’s next for you?
Zang Toi: What is next for me is continuing what I am doing and continuing to make my clients happy.
—William S. Gooch