As Zang Toi expands his empire, fashion and home remain top priority

Jewelry, shoes, even food.  These are potentially risky areas for fashion designers to venture into, but for Zang Toi, it’s a piece of cake.

Make that a piece of banana chocolate cake.

“My brother See Luon is doing a fantastic job,” Toi said of one of his older brothers who runs his café, among other operations, in their home country of Malaysia.  “I don’t know how many slices of banana chocolate cake he’s selling every day…all the glasses of tea punch!”

In fact, Toi made sure that his staff members personally handed out lunch boxes to all the photographers waiting to shoot his Fall 2012 runway show in New York.  The boxes, which contained curry buns, advertised his West 57th Café in Kuala Lumpur, named after the location of his Manhattan design studio.

It’s an unusually personal touch that persists throughout Toi’s growing business empire.  His jewelry line, “the baby of the family,” Toi notes, swiftly brought in a quarter of a million dollars in less than two months following its launch, the result of his ongoing homegrown collaboration with Penang-based Amee Philips.  His shoe sales, Toi estimates, raked in a cool $3 million in sales last year.  But unbelievably, some of those Italian-sourced leather strappy heels are made entirely by hand by yet another Malaysian, Michael Chen.

Still, no matter how much Toi diversifies his portfolio, clothing remains the epicenter of his work.  For his “Glamour in Gstaad” collection, Toi traveled to the famed ski resort town in Switzerland over Christmas to begin sketching.  The end result was yet another carefully crafted, beautifully curated procession of looks reminiscent of a different era.

“Back in the ‘60s, [Gstaad] was so popular with all the famous movie stars and all the jetsetters like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor,” Toi told Meniscus Magazine before the show.  “But I wanted to do a modern version of Gstaad.”  In doing so, he began the show with a sequence of crisp ivory sportswear – “nothing is more glamorous than winter white,” Toi said – and moved into a vibrant series of black and ruby colors throughout his closing eveningwear.  Of particular note were the gowns featuring what Toi called “brilliant brush strokes,” with large whisks of black contrasting with the delicacy of silk satin material.

Although Toi doesn’t get to experience much of his native country these days, having left at age 18, it is clear that his ties to business and family reel him in – and often collide.

“Whenever I go home once or twice a year, I go home for three or four days.  My big brother over there works me to death, from 7 o’clock [a.m.] to 9 o’clock at night with press interviews, meeting with customers,” Toi said, pointing at a smiling See Luon, who traveled to New York to assist with his younger brother’s Fall 2012 show.

“Fashion is so global now,” Toi added.  “There is a great, great potential [for a] big industry in Malaysia.  I encourage all the young designers to work hard, never be afraid to dream big.  But you have to work hard to make that dream into a reality.  It’s all about hard work.”

Watch Zang Toi’s full interview with Meniscus Magazine below.

Video: An interview with Zang Toi – Fall 2012 New York Fashion Week

video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Photo Gallery: Zang Toi – Fall 2012
all photos by Kwai Chan / Meniscus Magazine