5 Questions with Fashion Designer Zang Toi

Fashion designer Zang Toi

Courtesy Zang Toi

For nearly 30 years, fashion designer Zang Toi has been celebrated for his elegant, luxurious designs. The Malaysian-born designer first caught the eye of Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour when he opened his New York City atelier in 1989, and he quickly landed in the pages of the magazine’s March 1990 issue. Since then, he’s dressed the likes of Sharon Stone and Elizabeth Taylor, launched a line of beauty products (Amazing Cosmetics), and infamously appeared on The Real Housewives of New York City. (Housewife Jill Zarin is a fan.)

Up until recently, the designer sold his collection at Nordstrom at the Mall of America, but has since recalibrated his company to focus on creating made-to-order pieces for his loyal base of customers. So local Zang Toi fans will be happy to learn he is shipping a selection of luxury evening wear from his spring/summer 2017 collection for a one-night-only trunk show at Mona Williams, a locally owned boutique specializing in new and resale designer clothing at the Mall of America. His spring collection is inspired by the romance of France, with floral patterns, embellishments, and colors inspired by Monet’s Gardens at Giverny,

Toi was gracious enough to take my call in between appointments earlier this week to speak to me about his inspiration, his vision for his business, and why his clients are so loyal.

How did you get connected with Mona Williams for this trunk show?

I’ve known Patric [Richardson, owner of Mona Williams] for a very long time back when he was a manager at Nordstrom at Mall of America. The first time I met him was about 20 years ago. Then out of the blue about six months ago, he contacted me about this event and asked whether I’d be willing to send him some gowns, and I said of course! We’re sending him some beautiful gowns from the spring 2017 collection. I do trunk shows with larger department stores—my fall/winter 2017 collection is currently traveling across the country in a series of trunk shows at Saks Fifth Avenue—but my loyalty is with Patric. He’s a great salesman and the sweetest person.

Which pieces will be featured in Thursday’s trunk show?

We sent him an assortment, and we tried to send 10 gowns as different as possible. If one person purchases a gown from the show, we don’t want anyone else to have anything similar to it in that market. We wanted it to be very exclusive.

Luxury is a defining aspect of your label, and the market for luxury fashion has been in flux since the recession hit. How does your label maintain its relevance in the age of fast fashion?

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the collection is so unique, it’s not for everybody. In the last 15 years, I found my own motto: My collection is catered to the top one percent. With the economic downturn, even last year, we were able to have a single-digit increase. It’s a very niche customer. My clients are very loyal—some I’ve dressed for 25 years. With many of my customers across the country, they don’t just purchase one or two pieces from a collection—it’s not unusual for a woman to order $80,000 or $100,000 worth of items at a time. The inside of each piece is just as beautiful as the outside, everything is fully lined in the finest silk. These are true investment pieces for them. To be true luxury, you have to have the workmanship and quality to keep your customer coming back.

You’ve recently moved away from creating readymade collections to be sold at stores in favor of a made-to-order model. Why?

Because the price point is so high, we’ve decided to focus on creating made-to-order pieces for our customer base. We don’t sell as much to stores anymore, and that’s why our trunk shows are so big. We don’t have to sell as much to big department stores. With this new fall collection during the very first trunk show, we did $380,000 in two days. These regular customers come back season after season, so you win their trust.

You’ve had some of the same customers for 20 years. What do you think this loyalty comes from?

A few factors. It’s a very unique product. My customers can buy anything they want, but they buy from me being they’re buying a piece of my personality. Another key reason is somehow the men, the husbands or the boyfriends, love how my clients look in my designs. Even my independently wealthy clients, they still love to get a compliment from their husband. When they go to a gala or party, they love to feel like the center of attention.

Shop select pieces from Zang Toi’s spring/summer 2017 collection (pictured below) during Mona Williams Honors the Minnesota Orchestra Symphony Ball, a shopping event showcasing sought-after, one-of-a-kind designs in anticipation of the Symphony Ball on June 24. The event also includes a rare trunk show by local jewelry designer Stephanie Lake, a new collection of beaded handbags and accessories exclusive to Mona Williams, and the store’s curated collection of vintage evening apparel and handbags. 6-8 p.m. Thu., March 30 @ Mona Williams, 138 South, Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-854-5181, monawilliams.com

images from zang toi s/s 2017 Courtesy Zang Toi