It's not often that New York Fashion Week attendees are treated to a performance before the runway show begins. But leave it to Zang Toi, master couturier and sartorial superstar, to give us the giant pick-me-up we all needed on Tuesday, the sixth day of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Toi, best known for his masterful creations for affluent socialites and celebrities and his larger-than-life personality, was inspired for his latest Spring 2014 collection by ballet, a stimulus oft used by designers. But, while it's easy to model an assortment of tulle dresses and gowns and call it "ballet," the art of dance is much more multifaceted, which Toi nailed in his grand jeté to perfection.
"The ballet-inspired collection has been done by many designers," Toi told the International Business Times in his Manhattan atelier a week before the show. "Not many people have done ballet right. They go straight to the tutu, the corsets, Swan Lake. I don't want to do a costume-y ballet collection. If I'm going to do a ballet collection, I have to put my own stamp on it."
Guided by his longtime friend and this season's muse, American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Cory Stearns, who also opened the show with a performance, Toi did plenty of research on ballet. The designer even attended an ABT rehearsal where he found himself most fascinated with the movement and the gracefulness of a ballet dancer, as well as their strength while training.
"I wanted to take the very elegant line, and very graceful line of ballet to translate into the collection," he explained. "I also wanted to take the real life. All these ballerinas, they work so hard. They have spines of steel. They might look fragile from the outside exterior, but they are so strong and so disciplined and they do it for love."
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Toi, like the ballerinas who inspired him, clearly designed his collection with love, too, in a palette of black, navy, spring blue and, of course, a delicate ballet pink. A bevy of beauties, and a suited Stearns, walked in Toi's show donning wares from power suits; cashmere silk turtleneck dresses with comfy oversized cardigans paired with over-the-knee leg warmers in Toi's take on ballet warm-up gear; twill pants, skirts and shorts; jackets, blazers and long coats with a blue silk print of a "ballet scenic backdrop” and day-to-evening dresses galore, fit for an ABT opening gala.
Evening wear, where Toi's strengths undoubtedly lie, ranged from dresses with short and below-the-knee hemlines to some of the most incredible evening gowns you'll ever see on a runway. During the second half of the collection, Toi sent gown after gown down the runway, each executed with precision and beauty much like Stearn’s pirouettes and leaps that began the show. While all regal, one nearly knocked the socks off of the audience, which just happened to be Toi’s favorite, too.
“If I really have to find one favorite piece, they’re all my children. But if I really had to name one, my favorite piece would be on [model] Lena [Ashikhmina],” he said backstage before the show, naming “Sleeping Beauty”: a black silk gazar grand ball gown, long in the back and short in the front, exposing tiers upon tiers of pleated spring blue ruffled tulle. “It’s so dramatic and so pretty that I think is the gown that’s going to bring down the house tonight.”
Consider the house brought down, Zang.