Malaysian fashion designer Zang Toi shares a glimpse of his New York City life

He reveals his favourite places to dine and shop in the Big Apple.

What the designer misses most about Malaysia is his family (Photo: Zang Toi)

I first came to New York City 40 years ago and fell in love with it the very first day I arrived. Having said that, this could well be the first time in four decades here that I do not feel proud of it. Why? Because of the weakness in its leadership. But let’s not talk politics now.



NYC is a great city and I love my neighbourhood with its grown-up cool vibe and sophisticated crowd living equally sophisticated and luxurious lifestyles. The area is surrounded by gorgeous, simply gorgeous, pre-war mansions, townhouses and co-op apartment buildings, with many of them listed for historic preservation. The neighbourhood itself is safe and stunning, while the breathtakingly beautiful Central Park right across the street from my apartment is a bonus.


Central Park is right across the street from Zang's apartment (Photo: Central Park Conservancy)


My perfect New York day would mean getting up at 8am to make myself breakfast: freshly ground and brewed Blue Mountain black coffee and French yoghurt. If I feel like going out, I will have breakfast at my favourite spots. I go to Via Quadronno for a large skim milk latte and toasted baguette with butter and jam or 3 Guys Diner for black coffee and waffles with a side of sausages. After breakfast, I reply emails and make my phone calls for the day before stepping into my office in midtown. If you haven’t visited me, it is across from the Rockefeller Center.

Once I enter the atelier, it will be non-stop action. Lunch would just be a 15-minute break, usually comprising takeaway Chinese chicken fried rice or a chicken salad sandwich. I walk home between 6pm and 7pm after a productive day at work. I then go for my daily run in the park before making myself a simple but delicious pasta dinner. Once in a while, I eat out with great friends like [former supermodel and actress] Carol Alt. And I always spend time on more creative work before, finally, bedtime at 3am.

My schedule has been really busy of late, so I haven’t been cooking much but eating out; always something delicious at a favourite restaurant, followed by coffee and dessert at The Gallery restaurant of the Carlyle Hotel, which is fabulous! The Gallery is inspired by the sultan’s dining room at Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace and also happens to be conveniently right across the street from my apartment.


The Carlyle Hotel’s Gallery restaurant (Photo: The Carlyle Hotel)



Eating out in NYC is always a delight and some of my favourite restaurants include Masa or Kappo Masa, both owned by legendary chef Masayoshi Takayama; Kurumazushi; Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin; Daniel by Daniel Boulud; haute French restaurants La Grenouille and Majorelle; the iconic Mr Chow’s; Indochine; Emilio’s Ballato and Sant Ambroeus. I also love a late night dinner sometimes but the night should ideally end with coffee and dessert at The Gallery of the Carlyle. If I miss Malaysian food, I cook something authentic at home as it is difficult to find a good Malaysian restaurant here.


I personally prefer to shop in Paris but I do love popping into Scully & Scully at 504 Park Avenue or Hermès to stock up on my favourite Herend hand-painted porcelain and more chic homeware. The retail scene in New York isn’t so good at the moment but I am hopeful it will be bigger and brighter soon. For a sybaritic treat, it is always the La Prairie Spa at The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park, before I end up, yet again, at the Carlyle Hotel for a casual dinner.


Travel is a great source of inspiration for his designs (Photo: Zang Toi)



I love to travel and it is a great source of inspiration for me. In fact, the Zang Toi Spring 2022 collection is inspired by my love of glamorous Palm Beach. I was introduced to it over 30 years ago by the late Martha Phillips, the grand dame of luxury fashion retailing, who maintained a home and lived there right up until she passed away at the age of 98.

Meanwhile, two of my dream vacations would be to travel by train on the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to Istanbul, Turkey, and to visit Egypt. I am dreaming of wearing my all-white ensemble of a Charvet cotton shirt paired with a hand-embroidered wayang kulit mini sarong by the House of Toi and Hermès Oran sandals with its “H” cut-out while sailing along the Nile. I do think this exotic trip may just inspire a future all-white collection.



What I miss most about Malaysia is my family, of course, and all the delicious food! I love being home, meeting up with and being surrounded by my entire family while eating the most delicious food prepared by my mom, sister Mey Mey and brother See Luon.


This article first appeared on Sept 20, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.


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