Suzanne Rogers greets us in her living room. She is wearing a Dolce & Gabbana dress with a floral pattern, her make-up is flawless and she has her hair up. A little puppy runs around, but then politely stops and looks up at us. I pet the puppy on the head, as we sit down to talk about something we both do on a regular basis: fashion.
Despite her signature glamourous look, style doesn’t only radiate through Rogers’ appearance – she is a well-known philanthropist and has organized many high-profile charity fashion shows in Canada, some of which have brought renowned designers to the country for the first time. She tells me that charity work is very important to her and her husband Edward, and that since becoming a mother she has held a special place in her heart for charitable causes which improve the lives of children.
In this Exclusive, Rogers explains how fashion and philanthropy are intertwined in her life.
HANNAH YAKOBI: How was your fashion week season?
SUZANNE ROGERS: I’ve done Paris Fashion Week for a number of years, but this September I went to London Fashion Week for the first time. I thought it was very different. There were many great up-and-coming British designers who I love and have become friends with.
I saw Erdem, Mary Katrantzou, who is one of my favourites, Peter Pilotto who was incredible, Jonathan Saunders, Nicholas Kirkwood. Those were the highlights I would say.
Mary Katrantzou is so young and talented; very creative. I wear a lot of her clothes, so it was nice to see her in her element.
I hadn’t done Toronto Fashion Week for a while, but went this season as well. It was nice to see and support some great shows.
Many people go to fashion weeks to ‘pre-shop’ the collections. Do you ever do that?
For me, it’s about going to see the creative process. I think you get over the shopping for it and really appreciate the designers and what you see coming down the runway: the fabrics, the cut of the clothes and how different they are from a previous season. It’s a whole experience. Shopping is a very small part of that process.
Where does your love for fashion originate?
When I was in Grade 8, I was doing speeches on fashion for my class. I spent a lot of time in Europe. My parents are Hungarian, so we would always go there and we traveled a lot. From a young age, I was exposed to very different European cultures and European ways of dressing. That always had a big influence on me.
You mentioned enjoying some of the shows at London Fashion Week. In general, who are some of your favourite designers?
I have too many favourite designers! Right now, I love Mary Katrantzou for being so innovative and creative. I wear a lot of Dolce & Gabbana and Victoria Beckham. And for eveningwear, I wear a lot of Marchesa and Oscar [de la Renta], of course.
What about Canadian designers?
Well, David Dixon is one my dearest friends, and David makes special pieces for me too. He is great. He’ll send me photos of his clothing sometimes, asking what I think. Canada is lucky to have him. I think every woman can wear David Dixon; his clothing is timeless.
You are a well-known philanthropist. How does your interest in fashion translate into your charity work?
I’ve taken the vehicle that I have access to – my love for fashion – and used it to raise some great money for the causes in this city and this country. It was just a very natural transition to bring those two together.
What have been your biggest projects so far?
Well, you know, people think that the biggest projects are always ones that get the most news, but that is not necessarily true. The ones that I work hard on with my husband is the ONExONE Foundation, where we are the honourary chairs. We are building a children’s hospital in Haiti. So we are working on raising money for the pediatric wing there.
We try to put our hands in a little bit of everything, what interests us and what we can be helpful with. And where we can make some sort of a change.
You have organized some very high-profile charity fashion shows in Canada too. How did you come up with the idea of bringing Oscar de la Renta and Marchesa to Toronto?
I was a client of Oscar’s for many years and I still am, so I was kind of on his radar. I approached him to do an event and come to Canada. He is very much involved with an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, so children’s causes are close to his heart as well. He had never done a fashion show in Canada before, so it was something very exciting – to bring that caliber of international talent here.
It was the same for Marchesa: Georgina [Chapman] and Keren [Craig] are great, they were right on board too. Georgina also funds a children’s orphanage in India, called The Rose Children’s Home.
Both events were incredibly successful and raised $1.5 million for children’s charities in two nights. I’m pretty happy about it and it’s great to see the response. I think people want to see that glamour, that caliber of international design work coming here.
Do you think you will ever design a collection yourself?
Well, well, well. (laughs) You know I have been asked that a few times. I wouldn’t say ‘no’. I might collaborate though.
I don’t think I have the time. I have three kids who are very different in age – they are five, seven and 15 – so they definitely require different types of attention. And we travel quite a bit. My husband’s career is very, very busy, so I’m pretty much a stay-at-home-Mom when it comes to that sort of thing. Other than a week here and a week there, when I go on my little fashion adventures.
Do you ever go shopping with your children?
You know, if I put a garbage bag on my sons they’d be fine. (laughs) They are five and seven, so they don’t care. My daughter right now is getting into fashion but not too much. She is a good kid and she is more of a tomboy than anything else. But she’ll critique me when I go out at night: “Oh Mom, don’t wear those shoes with that dress” or “Mom you are wearing Mom jeans!” (laughs) You know, she is 15, so she definitely has her own view on fashion, which is great because at 15 I had my own view on fashion as well.
What’s great about fashion is that it evolves with your personality, with your tastes. It evolves with time, with you being more comfortable in your skin and how you present yourself. I think clothing is an expression of whatever is going on in your life or how you feel about yourself. It’s definitely an evolution. It has been for me and hopefully will be for my 15-year-old daughter too.
How would you describe your own style?
I like pieces that make a statement. I wear a lot of black but I like clothing that is creatively sewn together or has incredible detail. I wear pants, but I’m not a jeans person. My style has changed over the years and I’m sure it will evolve more.
As the years go on, you expand, become more confident in yourself and try new things. I definitely take more challenges than I did 10 years ago.
What is one of the most prized pieces in your closet?
My wedding dress. It was designed by Ines Di Santo. I looked at a lot of designers and at international designers too, but I wanted to have a Canadian designer do my dress. And Ines is definitely one of the best Canadian wedding designers. She is also in Neiman Marcus and Bergdorfs [Bergdorf Goodman], so she has really hit the international market.
What did the dress look like?
It was strapless, all ruched, very fitted and I had a train that was 25 feet long. It was a big dress but I wanted a big dress. It’s still in my closet. I think that is the most important gown I have – it’s like that for every woman, right?
Definitely. So since a fashion element was present at your wedding, how does it translate into other parts of your life?
Well, you can see a lot of ruffles in my house. (laughs) I like a happy environment. I like colour, I like to look fresh in my clothes and make a statement, and I hope the rest of my environment reflects that as well. My cottage is the same, I like lots of light and so does my husband. I don’t think I own one piece of dark furniture.
I think having a sense of fashion doesn’t stop at your clothes. You can pick up things about someone when you walk into their home. Everything connects in life.