The art of fash­ion

Cou­turier Datuk Zang Toi has come a long way since his hum­ble be­gin­nings of grow­ing up in Ke­lan­tan.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - STYLE - By BERVIN CHEONG star2@ thes­tar. com. my

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

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