How Suzanne Rogers became Canada’s fashion fairy godmother

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Pandemic or no pandemic, there’s no keeping Suzanne Rogers’ signature big hair down.

“I start the day with a blow dryer,” she says of her lockdown beauty routine. “Some people meditate, I get my hair done.” Right now she does it herself, of course. “It makes you feel good, it doesn’t cost anything to get the curlers or the curling iron out.”

Pandemic protocols deny me the natural lead for any profile of a socialite philanthropist: the microscopic dissection of her outfit. Thankfully, reached by phone, Rogers cheerfully obliges: “Right now I am wearing black knit pants, a pink knit wrap top and minimal makeup.” So, not sweats — whew, glad this isn’t on Zoom. “I think people have the misconception that I wear ball gowns all the time, which is a fair assumption, as I’m often photographed in Oscar de la Renta. In real life, I do a high-low mix.”

We are chatting now because Rogers — known broadly as the fairy godmother of Canadian fashion — made quite a donation recently. In November, the Edward and Suzanne Rogers Foundation announced a second $1-million gift, a five-year extension of funding for The Suzanne Rogers Fashion Institute at the Ryerson School of Fashion.

The SRFI, as it is known, is a career turbocharger for emerging fashion designers as they transition from their degree into their careers, providing customized funding for what each designer needs. These financial needs have ranged from master’s degrees in London to support for international competitions and internships, paired up with entrepreneurial insights, networking connections and mentorship.

But we know you’re also here for the socialite tidbits. Rogers knows it, too, delivering a peep into her fabulous life because that is how she can best draw attention to the work of the fellows at the SRFI. She is proud to be a fashion peacock, consistently favouring a more-is-more, ultrafeminine look. She told Toronto Life years ago her style icon was Truly Scrumptious from the wholesome 1960s comedy “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

Just like the royals, Rogers knows that what she wears — her annual wardrobe spend is oft-rumoured to be in the seven-figure range — draws attention, and cash, to the causes she espouses. Gala Suzanne is a role she slips into and the costumes take military planning: Rogers selects her wardrobe a year in advance with many garments commissioned for specific occasions she knows she will attend the following year. (No, Suzanne Rogers is not just like us, heaving our closets onto the bedroom floor 20 minutes before a big event, cursing and hating everything we own.)

Naturally, 2020 has thrown a curve into her calendar and her clothes-buying plans, same as everyone else’s (aside from the outlet of the family’s vacation homes in Lyford Cay, Bahamas and Muskoka, which can be glimpsed on her Instagram, along with location-appropriate vacation clothing). “I still have the (gala) wardrobe from last year I haven’t worn. I have the Greta (Constantine) boys do my CAFA outfits for me, for press and what have you,” she says, referring to the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards.