Given the frenetic level of activity among the press at this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, it is hard to see how the house of Zang Toi was missed. Indeed, there was no shortage of the annual de rigueur accolades for the established luminaries of fashion. One could almost check them off the list by rote memory. Yet, this house presented a collection so exquisite that it’s hard to see how it was missed. A cursory search on Google revealed no mention other than from the MBFW web site itself. Digging further only reveals the usual and ubiquitous kiddie-grams recorded, emailed, tweeted, and facebooked. Virtually no serious professional mention was made of Zang Toi’s fall collection, if even sotto voce. Indeed, this was a sin of omission. What makes this omission even more regrettable is the personal significance behind this show. Zang, whose father recently passed away, dedicated this particular show to him indicating “It was my dad who first championed my creative talent by encouraging me to draw and sketch. He was my biggest supporter and he cheered me on my entire 23-year career.”
Toi’s collection transported the attendees on a trek back in time to ‘30s Shanghai; then known as the “Paris of the Orient”. The topic of fashion is generally not a significant part of the historiographical narrative of China, especially in the ‘30s. Beset with deprivation, internecine warfare, and foreign invasion, these issues far overshadowed anything the sartorial cognoscenti had to say. Yet, out of this darkness, Zang is able to not only extract and highlight a number of interesting factors from this period, but use them as inspiration for this fall’s collection.
Recreating an Art Deco Shanghai in its most affluent period, Toi creates a collection of modernized silhouettes of qi pao, socialite jackets, and jewel accessories that reflected the city’s polyglot glamor. One could almost envision these grand designs in the Paramount Hall. Colors chosen for the celebration of ‘30s Shanghai were brilliant jade, opium, charcoal, grey and black. The color jade is one that may impart healing, gentleness and nourishment, since it is said that this is because jade is a stone that protects and supports loving heart energy.
The collection imparted an air of mystery with the Loro Piana Cashmere Glen Plaid women’s western influenced suit with pleated lapels, black gloves and sheer blouse in matching glen plaid, gray fur stole; sheer matching ascot and a black fedora dropped over one eye. Impeccable tailoring and sporting men’s wear silhouette made picture perfect for this woman of Shanghai. The was followed by the man’s suit in matching Loro Piana Cashmere Glen Plaid, black gloves and black fedora, white shirt with white ascot. As they crossed paths on the runway, one could almost imagine them at a rendezvous point in the city exchanging secrets. More tailoring in a short elbow length Glen Plaid double breasted belted trench dress, with sheer matching glen plaid long sleeved blouse, black gloves. Garter-like hosiery that was sheer from upper thigh and below was opaque with an open seam up the back of the hosiery and ascot, fedora now over the left eye, appearing like a signal for a dead drop.
The short wool Birdseye tweed cape with tweed dress and black gloves, and black fedora were a clear favorite. The shaped shoulder and funnel neck held the cape graciously as the model walked without button or closure. The final piece in the gray wool set was the classic trench dress, double breasted, ¾ length sleeves, belted with collar slightly raised in the back. The black opaque with negative skin seam on the garter-like hosiery added to the allure.
Another was the gray knit long sleeved suit with a fur shawl collar, worn with a black high-necked blouse and a sculpted knee length skirt, which was elegant but not pretentious. This was followed by a black Pantsuit with peaked lapels hand pick stitched in brilliant jade with elbow length sleeves in black with bright jade green sheer long sleeve blouse. The combinations of black leather and bright jade sweater knits were a smart look. A beautifully executed long napped mohair long coat with double peaked lapels made to stand along the neckline was, worn over a green and black front zippered sweater, resulting in a stunning look.
The use of brocades in ensembles, dress and coats with fur reflected a ‘30s simple sublime sensuality; qualities that certainly would have had any petit bourgeois sent packing to the next struggle session in their dunce cap.
Another exquisite look was the black overcoat with dark grey silk gown, and embroidery on front and back shoulder and a chapel train.
Other captivating looks included:
A brilliant jade cap sleeve with rounded oval neckline gown with 5 inches wide jet and jade crystals. The back of the gown was similar to an 18th century robe à la Française, with the detailing beginning just below the shoulder blades.
A brilliant jade silk rectangle cape with long square tails. The front of the cape touches the front waistline and is fitted on the shoulders with black neckline closure with jet starburst and jeweled neckline over a simple black silk gown.
A solid black high necked, long sleeve, long fitting hourglass gown with lower edge of hem trimmed in fur, with statement jewels in emerald and crystal, and black long wrap edged in fur.
A long black silk satin straight gown with a tall Mandarin collar, collar edge of bodice bright crystal starburst pattern and a single solid row of stones as a necklace at the base of the collar, worn with bright jade ostrich caplet with front closure.
A look Elizabeth Taylor would have adored was a strapless black silk gown, with brilliant jade fur wrap and an imperial bejeweled collar, with tall stand collar round bid encrusted in clear crystal and Art Deco patterned in the center front of gown with large stones.
An empress coat completely lined in brilliant jade green, beaded with an Art Deco skyline.
This show was a fabulous manifestation of Toi’s creative virtuosity. Overcoming his own humble beginnings and personal challenges, he has not only received the imprimatur of Anna Wintour, but has established himself as a force to be recognized. I’m looking forward to seeing his collection for S/S 2015.
Cindy Ann Peterson, AICI FLC is a couture designer and an award winning image and style consultant. Named by the Netherlands' Kleur and Stijl as one of the Big 7 color and style consultants for Washington DC. She is also a co-author of "My Style, My Way" and "The Power of Civility." Having lived around the globe, she speaks on a variety of style and civility topics and reflects an international flair with her Peterson Perspective to delight and inspire. Visit her website at www.cindyannpeterson.com.