If an editor during New York Fashion Week nearly falls out of her front-row seat in an attempt to steal -- well, not steal, more like fondle, I swear! -- a dress from the runway, you know the collection was beyond outstanding.
The show we’re talking about was Zang Toi, the Malaysian-born designer whose knockout Fall 2014 collection was inspired by China. “Shanghai [in the] 1930s was one of the most decadent periods ... [it was] known as the ‘Paris of the Orient,’” Toi told the International Business Times backstage before his show last Wednesday. “It’s very glamorous, very decadent, which is right up my alley.”
Up his alley, indeed. Toi brought out this decadence with a hue he calls “Brilliant Jade” -- an ode to the green color of “one of [China's] most treasured gemstones" that's "considered to be good luck” -- which evoked superior glamour in his gowns and dresses.
Everyone who knows Zang Toi, a designer who certainly has a flair for drama, knows that his strengths lie in eveningwear. After nearly 25 years in business, Toi is aware of his tenacity, and rather than hide it, he chooses to showcase it in the most dramatic fashion -- the signature theatrical pause he injects mid-show to signal the transition into his gown selection only induces more excitement.
Critics who label him as “predictable” are strongly misinformed. Fashion, after all, is fantasy, and Zang Toi formal attire is dual-purpose; his gowns cater to both his loyal, affluent clientele as well as the dreamer in us all who long for an occasion to wear his lavish dresses and gowns. Even the oft-cynical Fug Girls, famous for their snarky column in New York Magazine, couldn’t help but dream about being Queen for a day in the jade silk Taffeta Empress gown. This is when the aforementioned dress editor -- who just so happens to be yours truly -- attempted to touch the gown as it glided down the runway, an anecdote that is now joked about at the House of Toi, as the designer calls his atelier.
The aforementioned gown, finale Empress coat and modernized Qi Pao-inspired looks are the types of creations with which Toi really gets to shine with his expert tailoring and attention to detail, like hand-beaded art deco jewels, and luxury additions, such as fox fur and ostrich feathers. Speaking of ostrich feathers, one standout look was a mini pouf dress made completely of the feathers custom-dyed to his brilliant jade color with onyx crystals sprinkled throughout, a nuanced feature noticeable upon closer examination rather than being too ostentatious.
The most extraordinary look, though, was a simple black strapless gown made of silk velvet. But there was nothing simple about it. Toi paired the dress with the most grandiose art deco choker necklace that, even as a professional writer, is too beautiful to put into words.
But as a prelude evening wear, Toi also did “bring down the house,” as he frequently says, with his suiting, made from Loro Piana cashmere tweed in a charcoal Glen plaid pattern. Belted trenches with oversized lapels, trousers, dresses and capes with a bit of gangster flair were sexed up, but not raunched up, with over-the-knee tights from the designer’s collection for Anew Legwear. Keep an eye on his website, Shop Zang Toi, for they are sure to sell out.
The most impressive feat for Toi, who doesn’t abide by or ever really acknowledge trends, unlike some designers’ mantras, was a black leather oversized vest with large pockets. It was refreshing to see Toi add a piece to his collection for the casual off time his clients have, say, on the weekends, or his younger, trendy fans.
But for the show, Toi only had one fan in mind, his father, for whom he dedicated the show. Toi explained that he was en route to Shanghai for an inspiration trip for his collection about two-and-a-half months ago when his dad, Toi Hun Eng, unexpectedly passed away.
“The most important thing for me today is to put on a show that would make my dad proud,” Toi said backstage. “He truly was my first fan so my Chinese collection turned into a tribute for my beloved dad.”
Toi said his dad, who commissioned him as a six-year-old boy in Malaysia to draw Christmas cards for clients of his family’s grocery store, was his “very first champion,” a sentiment that keeps him inspired year-after-year.
“I’m still like a little kid,” Toi mused. “When I finished up this collection about two months ago, I already started thinking about the next collection. I guess when you love what you do, it’s not work anymore.”
View some of the best looks from Zang Toi's Fall 2014 collection show during New York Fashion Week below.
Eka Halim – EPHPhoto