How Philanthropist Suzanne Rogers Inspires Canadian Fashion
“The qualities I most admire in women are confidence and kindness.”
—Oscar de la Renta
Being a fashion designer requires more than dedication and talent. Designers also need opportunities to display their creations. These occasions are few and far between, and for Canadian designers they’re even rarer. Fortunately, philanthropist and style icon Suzanne Rogers has made it her mission to change that.
Rogers has often been called the “fairy godmother of Canadian fashion” due to her knack for discovering talented designers and helping to launch their careers. In 2016, she formalized that role through the Suzanne Rogers Fashion Institute (SRFI) at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University), a fellowship program that helps talented young Canadian fashion designers to transition from education to practice.
“The idea for the institute came to me at a university fashion show,” Rogers says. “I asked the chair of the School of Fashion, ‘What happens to these designers after this? There’s some amazing talent coming out of the graduating class.’ He threw up his hands and said, ‘Who knows?’”
“We just don’t have an industry here that supports these young designers. There aren’t big fashion houses in Canada where they can get internships. We don’t have a master’s program to further their studies after a three- or four-year degree. It kind of ends there.”
With the help of SRFI, graduating students now get financial and professional support to launch their careers. The results speak for themselves: fellows like Olivia Rubens, Sara He, and Alexandra Armata have built their own brands or joined major fashion houses.
But the institute is just one of many of Rogers’s contributions to the Canadian fashion industry. She consistently combines her passion for style with philanthropic initiatives. The epitome of these efforts is her signature event, Suzanne Rogers Presents, where she partners with international designers to raise funds for selected charities. The roster of her collaborators has included some of the industry’s most respected names, such as Oscar de la Renta, Victoria Beckham, and Diane von Furstenberg.
“I’m always looking out for organizations that can benefit from what I do. I just co-chaired an event with a very good friend of mine, Sylvia Mantella. We raised $500,000 for Campfire Circle, a children’s charity that provides camps for children with cancer,” Rogers says.
When asked about her biggest style influence, Rogers cites Oscar de la Renta, who partnered with her on the very first Suzanne Rogers Presents. It was his first full runway show in Canada and one of his final public appearances before passing away in 2014.
“He really had beauty on the inside just as much as he had glamour and grace on the outside,” Rogers says. “Oscar de la Renta just exuded pure elegance and charisma.”
De la Renta was an ideal collaborator for Rogers, not just because of his support for children’s charities and acclaim in the fashion world but also because of his philosophy. He once famously said that being well dressed doesn’t have much to do with having good clothes but is rather a question of good balance and common sense.
Rogers developed a similar style philosophy as a young girl, long before she gained wealth. “My lifestyle changed when I got married. I certainly didn’t grow up with Oscar de la Renta gowns. I grew up looking through bins from the Salvation Army, and my style really came from there,” she says.
“I had a good eye, and nobody could tell if I was wearing a $500 black turtleneck or a $20 one. That’s something I still appreciate. I’ll look at a young designer and say, ‘Okay, you’ve got it because you can mix the high and low together.’ Style isn’t just about wearing the most expensive items every day.”
Even during the Covid lockdowns when there weren’t social events to attend, Rogers tried to look her best. “I dressed up every day, and I don’t mean [I wore] a ball gown every day. I put on a black sweater and black pants. I still put on a pair of earrings. I did my makeup and my hair because it gave me a sense of self-respect.”
Rogers was born in the small town of Elliot Lake in Northern Ontario. Her parents were hard-working immigrants who came to Canada seeking a better life. Tragically, her father died in a mining accident when she was young, and the family had to learn to adapt and move on despite the sorrow.
“My mother lived through the 1956 revolution in Hungary. She tells my kids all the time about what it was like when she was young. I grew up with a family that was very family-oriented and had an appreciation for others. I’m really glad that my children have grown up with the balance of my family’s history as well as my husband’s,” Rogers says.
Today, Suzanne and Edward Rogers live in Toronto, where they’ve raised their three children to carry on the tradition of hard work and philanthropy. Their oldest daughter, Chloé, has followed her mother’s lead in the fashion industry and even launched her own brand.
“I’ve known my husband since we were 18 years old, and having such a solid family is what has allowed me to do what I do. Without the support of family members and especially your spouse, you can’t concentrate on things that you’re passionate about,” Rogers says.
Together with her family, she has made long-lasting contributions to her community, the Canadian fashion industry, and a wide range of charities. As de la Renta once said, “The qualities I most admire in women are confidence and kindness.”
Suzanne Rogers has both in spades.