The art of fashion
Couturier Datuk Zang Toi has come a long way since his humble beginnings of growing up in Kelantan.
Being a fashion designer was not Melinda Looi’s first career choice too. According to her, she was actually more interested in art. She says that her parents were the ones who persuaded her to take up fashion instead.
“This was when I discovered the ‘ art’ of couture, and truly fell in love with fashion. I could still pursue my dreams of being an artist, with the only difference being that fabric is my canvas, and I am using needles, thread and scissors, instead of a paintbrush!”
Today, Looi is very much a familiar face within the Malaysian fashion industry. Her designs regularly make an appearance on runways, with her clothes well received for being edgy with a dash of personality.
She designs both ready- to- wear and couture. There is also Emel, her modest wear brand that adheres to a socially conscious fashion initiative. This offers yearly baju raya collections.
“The journey was not an easy one and it was filled with hard work. It was quite normal for me to work two or three days a week till the wee hours of two or three in the morning, or not get any sleep at all during very busy periods, like fashion weeks,” states 43- year- old Looi.
When asked, she says that the fashion industry in Malaysia is both very exciting and challenging at the same time. She however feels that it takes a lot of hard work, determination and planning for a local designer to go global.
“On the one hand, Asian designers get much more attention internationally then ever before, but also there are more local and especially international brands now aiming at the Asian customers, which puts a lot of pressure on Asian brands.” Looi studied at the La Salle Institute of Design in Kuala Lumpur before winning the Malaysia Young Designer Award in 1995. The prize was a scholarship to study at the La Salle School of Fashion in Montreal, Canada.
“I’ve always had some kind of a local reference when it comes to my designs. Our Malaysian traditions are a treasure trove of inspiration just waiting to be reinterpreted for today’s women,” she states.
Looi adds that the local fashion industry has changed in a lot of ways. She says that it currently has more resources in the form of govt. It is also proving
" I think was very lucky in the way my business took off. It waas difficult at first, but ernationalwhat kept me going was all the support I got from my trade and consumers.clients, friends and the media, plus my staff."
HE runs a prestigous atelier in Manhattan. His clientele includes rich- and- famous names the likes of Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates; actresses Kirstie Alley and Eva Longoria; and pop- star Fergie of Black Eyed Peas.
Yet Datuk Zang Toi never forgets his roots. The 55- year- old couturier remains ever ready to point out that he had been brought up in a grocery store within a small town in Kelantan, alongside six other siblings.
“I liked to draw growing up, but I didn’t go to school for it at first. When I was studying in Canada, it was my sister who suggested I do fashion design. That’s when I transferred to Parsons,” he adds, in an email interview with Star2.
Toi was only 20 years old when he first landed in New York City to enroll at the distinguished Parsons School Of Design. A year after founding his atelier, House Of Toi, he caught the eye of editor- in- chief of the US Vogue Anna Wintour and was featured in the magazine.
He relates that he didn’t have much time to feel homesick, despite being so far away from home at that time. According to him, he was so busy working all the time and his mind was fully on the task at hand.
“I started working with designer Mary Jane Marcasiano when I was still in Parsons. I only got three to five hours of sleep on most days,” he says, regarding the early years of sharpening his skills in the United States.
Toi’s designs, although very much trendy and modern, have somehow stayed true to his heritage. When asked, he says that his Malaysian identity naturally comes out in the beautiful clothes he creates.
“Yes, being Malaysian has influenced my designs – especially in the beginning of my career. I used a lot of vibrant colours – like hot pink, fire engine red, chartreuse and purple, plus traditional elements comprising batik and shadow puppets.”
On mixing tradition and modernity, Toi says that it is very important and essential to strike a balance between the two. He thinks that a designer needs to always look forward, but not go too far with being too trendy.
His recent collection featured French motifs under the theme “Courchevel Chic”. Moved by the November 2015 Paris attacks, he paid tribute to the City Of Light, and to the strength and resilience of the French people.
“Timeless elegance. I am known for my fine craftsmanship, luxurious fabrics and glamorous looks,” he states, before adding, “It is more challenging than ever to create a fashion label now, especially in this economic climate. The fashion business is especially competitive.”
1 Toi is seen walking down the runway at the conclusion of his Spring/ Summer 2015 show during the Mercedes- Benz Fashion Week in New York. EPA — 2 Zang Toi's Autumn 2016 collection.
Zang Toi — 1