NEW YORK — Zang Toi on Sept. 13 will open the first store in his company’s 28-year history at 1046 Lexington Avenue here, an 800-square-foot unit with marble floors, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, crystal chandeliers and an oversize French mahogany table that has been refinished with white lacquer and wooden legs replaced with shiny chrome.
The designer, who signed a 10-year lease, said he got a good deal, $18,000 a month, after negotiating with a willing landlord. Jo Malone, Shi Cashmere and other retailers occupy the same block; the brands all sought relief from Madison Avenue’s high rents, Toi said.
Standing in the doorway of the store, wearing a short black skirt embroidered with the house’s crest and crown logo and flashing a Hollywood smile, Toi said, “It’s funny about opening my own little flagship. I searched for a space for five years. This block reminds me of the old New York. Madison Avenue has become a supersized mall. It has no more soul.”
Toi said, “I’ll be happy if we can do $2 million in the first year. It’s better to build slowly. In 28 years, I never had to take a penny from anybody. I don’t have a backer.”
The designer’s online business is very small, and he seems to be in no rush to expand e-commerce sales. Toi’s strong trunk-show business at Saks Fifth Avenue may have something to do with it. His brand has been the top-performing trunk show for the last six or seven years, he said, adding that a Saks fall trunk show did $450,000 in two days.
“There’s so much money and so much wealth in this country, but you have to really work with [customers] and not be a rock star,” Toi said. “It’s a lot of hard work, the trunk shows. A lot of times, I arrive in a city at midnight and get up at 6 the next morning.”
By now it’s clear that Toi is nostalgic for a more elegant era. “Trends come and go and this is my insurance collection,” he said, grabbing a cream double-faced bouclé dress trimmed with Saga Royal mink, from the rack. “It’s $10,000,” Toi said. “I sold seven at Saks in two days.”
A tight new mini collection in sizes two to 12 features lower prices and is aimed at a younger customer. For example, a blazer is $1,800, compared with $6,000 for the core collection. Pants in the new line are $900 and T-shirts are $130.
The crown, Toi’s logo, is featured throughout the store and also appears on products. A gold crown can be seen on the store’s exterior above the door; etched glass mirrors shaped like crowns are affixed onto wall mirrors; black buttons with mother-of-pearl crowns are used for a black blazer with a signature double collar, for $2,800, and a T-shirt with a hand-painted crown says J’Adore Zang Toi.
Last year, a collection of “basics” — if that word and Toi could be in the same sentence — launched, which includes turtleneck sweaters. “One lady picked it in seven different colors to wear to go walk her dog in the morning,” Toi said.
The store’s pièce de résistance is a white cape with the New York skyline conveyed through sequins and paillettes. “It took a team of eight people three weeks to make it,” he said. “It starts with the Brooklyn Bridge and your can see the Chrysler building. We auctioned it for $750,000 to benefit Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation.”