Dee Higby and Betty Huang present designer Zang Toi, center, a Tiffany & Co. thank-you gift.

  (Doug Gifford / October 4, 2013)

There are fashion shows and then there are fashion experiences that emphasize the creative aspect of an industry unknown to most people.

On Oct. 4, in the Designer Salon at Nordstrom South Coast Plaza, some 35 Orange County women were invited to a private luncheon and fashion event that offered a glimpse into the rarified world of the couture designer and his art.

The young and talented Zang Toi was attired in men’s fashion chic: a black traditional suit with the pant legs intentionally hemmed short showing bare ankles, no socks and oversized clunky black patent laced oxfords. His cropped hair was swept back on top of his head and fastened in place with a jeweled barrette.

The diminutive Malaysian designer with the international reputation presented his spring 2014 collection, which he has named Ballet Babe, inspired by his love of the world of dance.

The event was centered on presenting the collection as a celebration of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ holiday Candlelight Concert fundraiser.

On hand to welcome the crowd were the Candlelight chairs,Betty Huang and Dee Higby. Both women are dedicated supporters of the Segerstrom Center. Huang is a member of the Board of Directors as well as a donor and a member of the Angels of the Arts support group.

Higby is president of the Angels of the Arts, and her husband,Lawrence Higby, is chairman of the board. They are charged with the monumental task of producing the most lavish fundraising dinner of the year in Orange County with the goal of raising seven figures for the Segerstrom Center.

Nordstrom generously hosted members of the Candlelight Concert committee and their guests, throwing an elegant luncheon catered by the exclusive Crème de la Crème while introducing Toi’s Ballet Babe collection.

The couture salon at Nordstrom was draped in sheer white floor-to-ceiling curtains, creating a minimal barrier between the public aspect of the huge department store and the small slice of New York’s 7th Avenue. Long rectangular banquet tables in the parson’s style were set up in a parallel formation, beautifully dressed with trendy designer flatware and accoutrements and punctuated by a lineup of low, clear vases overflowing with full-bloomed pink roses.

Guests passed through the curtained wall, flutes of champagne were delivered and the Candlelight philanthropists, including the beautiful Elizabeth An, Sally Crockett, Eve Kornyei Ruffatto,Carol Wilken and Maralou Harrington, were seated for luncheon as the Toi extravaganza unfolded.

Also supporting Candlelight and attending the luncheon were Kathryn Cenci, Ruth Ding,Catherine Emmi, Ruth Ann Evans, Kathy Fleming, Angela Hsu, Pat Jones, Twyla Martin, Marilyn McCorkle, Britt Meyer, Sandra Simon and Elizabeth Tierney.

With military precision, Toi and his staff, all dressed in black and all very young and energetic, created a fashion runway between the tables featuring a lineup of exquisite models parading a sultry and sensual collection that was simple, ultra-feminine, flattering and artistic.

His fabric choices included rich silks, cashmeres, tulle and gazar inspired by his love of ballet, an homage to the success of the Segerstrom dance program, which in turn has helped put the center on the national map. Every item was a work of art.

Standouts included Toi’s Black Swan ball gown featuring a grosgrain trellis sprinkled with black blossoms. The ladies applauded a silk satin gala gown beaded with a ballet platinum bow. Another standout was a blue silk gazar cloud gown with a platinum-sequined draped back and sleeves.

The entire Toi collection can be previewed at the Designer Salon at Nordstrom South Coast Plaza. The Nordstrom event is an annual tradition heralding the elegant formality of the holiday season on the Orange Coast.

The enormous effort was concluded with chairs Huang and Higby presenting Toi with an iconic blue bag carrying a gift from Tiffany & Co. as a token of appreciation for the fashion presentation.

This year’s Candlelight Concert will take place Dec. 6 and will star the legendary Beach Boys in concert. For reservations and information, go to

THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.