2013.021.016 Oral History with Zang Toi
Zang Toi was born and grow up in a little village in Malaysia and was the 7th boy in his family, and his only younger sister courage him to peruse dream of fashion design. He got design training at Parsons School of Design when he was 20 years old. He doesn’t want to be someone next the big brand and follow the trend, but just want to be Zang Toi, so he start his own brand and put his own stamp on the fashion map. He thinks fashion design is a kind of serious business, not just fashion, hardworking is necessary. Zang Toi is so proud of being the forefront in Asian fashion community, and he thought this is a long way since 23 years ago till now.


ZANG TOI: Well I was born in Malaysia. Born and raised in Malaysia in the little village called Kuala Krai, in Kelantan. A village of ten thousand people with two main streets. Me and my six older siblings we grew up in the grocery store. We lived above the grocery store and I lived in the grocery store, grew up there until I was fifteen years old. And then I was sent to Canada at the age of eighteen to Toronto to study for a year and a half and I came to New York at the age of 20 to go to Parsons School of Design.

ZANG TOI: I believe it was my sister that encouraged me to get into fashion. As a boy growing up I always loved to draw and sketch, fashion was the last thing that was on my mind. Growing up, I thought I wanted to be a fine art artist and then later on, into architecture and at eighteen I was really into interior design.

ZANG TOI: Well, I've always wanted to do my own thing. I remember when I graduated in 1984, I remember my teacher, the chairman of the department wanted to set me up with an interview with Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Perry Ellis. Those were the top three brands back them, but I was working for a little young designer in SoHo and I told the chairman of the department, I said, I really don't want to be one of the twenty assistant designer for Calvin Klein. I want to be Zang Toi. I'm not interested with the next Calvin Klein or next Perry Ellis or Donna Karan. I just want to be Zang Toi.

ZANG TOI: Well, I think my background growing up in Malaysia, as a Chinese ethnic growing up in Malaysia. The work ethic I think has the most impact on what I do. I think it does --I always tell all the young generation I'm -- I consider myself an elder statement in the industry. You know, I always tell everybody a lot of very talented people out there, a lot of talent out there. You know, hard work is still the key to success.

ZANG TOI: That piece that will be on exhibition, for me it's almost a Chinese folk art and embroidery. It's all the beautiful plum blossoms, the beautiful butterflies and flowers. It's very happy and also the signature Zang -- Chinese good luck color, the red, it was--that was for my Fall 1991 collection, and then six months later. The movie Raise the Red Lantern was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscar and Gong Li fell in love with that gown and wanted to wear that gown to the Oscars

ZANG TOI: You know, I feel as one of the elder statements in Asian fashion community, I feel very very proud. I think we came a long way. Before my time, you know, there's a lot of very talented, very skillful Asians in the fashion industry, but they're always very shy and very quiet and they are behind the scenes.

ZANG TOI: I was very lucky. I was probably one of the first Asian designers that are not afraid to evoke that champion. It was 1989, my very first collection that was so small. 13 pieces in the entire collection. It was a resort 1989-1990. The first dress got into Vogue magazine, which is unheard of. And then three months later when I introduced my second collection, which is Spring 1990, it was--talk about at the right place at the right time. I showed my collection, my second collection which was twenty pieces in November of 1989.

ZANG TOI: I was in business for three months -- you need to do business, but I need to borrow the entire collection tomorrow at 8 o'clock, will return it by five. Suddenly the phone rang, it was the market editor, she said "Congratulations". I said "what?", and she said I didn't want to get your hope high, I took the collection to show to Anna Wintour. We were planning, actually we were, we finished up this story called 'The New Faces of the Nineties', and I love what you do.

ZANG TOI: The photography of my outfit was on the opening page of the story. That basically put me on the map with the rest of the fashion world. And you know what, that was 23 years ago? And we have come a long way since then. We have so many fantastic young Asian designers now making it in every month of Vogue magazine and all the other magazines. It's really great. After all these years of hard work from the Asian community, now that we're in the forefront of the industry, it's really fantastic.

Search This Transcript
Search Clear