By Dale Peers
Our annual Fashion Resource Centre exhibition (May 6th to 17th) celebrates the career of Canadian fashion icon Marilyn Brooks.
Marilyn Brooks, always an innovator, opened her lifestyle boutique the Unicorn in 1967. The funky neighborhoods of The Village and then Yorkville were the “Happening places” in Toronto in the Sixties. Her choice of locations was definitely prescient and would include trendy Queen St, alongside Holt Renfew on Bloor St. West and in upscale Yorkville on Cumberland Ave.
Throughout her 40+ years in the fashion business Marilyn has been a staunch and passionate supporter of the Canadian fashion industry. Her vision, tenacity and positive spirit are unmatched in an industry that can be, shall we say, challenging!
In Marilyn Brooks: Behind the Seams, successful designer, artist, business woman, and now author, records not only the history of her brand but in her truly generous way shares the stories of the many people she has worked and collaborated with throughout her 40+ years in the fashion industry. She shares her “Marilyn Maxims” – some of the lessons she has learned and the excellent advice she can provide to graduates and newly minted members entering the fashion foray.
One of the first Canadian fashion designers with a vertically integrated business model, Marilyn was designer, manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer. Marilyn and her team did it all. Her entrepreneurial spirit, artistic flair and bravery were key to her succeeding not only in her stores but in the contributions she made in shaping the fashion landscape in Canada and Toronto from the 1960s through to the 2000s.
Marilyn has been a pioneer in the fashion world and without her foresight and dedication to her craft contemporary fashion designers might never have had international spotlights trained on them and the City of Toronto. In 1977 Marilyn invited a group of Toronto based designers including Lori Brooks, Shirley Cheatley, Wayne Clarke, Hugh Garber, Elen Henderson, Edie Johne, Linda Lundstrom and Pat McDonagh to her home to discuss the establishment of an organization which could help them all. In 1978 TOD – Toronto Ontario Designers was officially launched with the first of many fashion shows, this premiere one held at St. Lawrence Centre. TOD later evolved into Designers Ontario and then the Fashion Designers Council of Canada and then to the Fashion Design Council of Canada.
She has been a mentor to many young members of the fashion industry and a long time supporter of many charitable organizations. We are especially grateful at Seneca College for the support she has provided to our students, our programs and especially our Fashion Resource Centre. From 1976 to 1983 Marilyn was a member of Seneca’s Fashion Merchandising Program Advisory Committee providing invaluable information and opinions that would contribute to courses preparing the next generation of fashion retailers.
Testament to her generosity are the many accolades and awards she has received. These include The Woolmark Award for Design Excellence, the “Night of Stars” award in 1994 from Fashion Group International, the Order of Ontario presented by the Honorable Hilary M. Weston, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario in 2000, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal in recognition of her contributions and achievements in fashion in 2012. Parkinson’s, Fashion Cares (in support of AIDS), Unicef, Big Brothers, and Cabbage Youth Centre are just a few of the many charitable organizations Marilyn has helped support through fund raising activities.
Marilyn is also a talented artist. Not only as a designer of fashion and original prints but in acrylics and other mediums. She has had a number of showings of her paintings and continues to be inspired by the beauty of her home in Lake Rousseau.
Our exhibition will take visitors through Marilyn’s 40+ fashion career with some of her early garments from the Unicorn to specialty t-shirts with original print designs to the work she did with corporations and celebrities and, of course, to the many loyal clients who shopped in her different locations.
It is thanks to Marilyn and these customers that we have these garments to present not only to our visitors in May but for the students in Seneca’s Fashion programs to study and learn from.
One of Marilyn’s Maxims (to be found at the end of each chapter in her book) captures not only good advice but a sentiment that sums up much of what Marilyn has done:
“Mentor, share, inspire, encourage, stimulate up and comers whenever you can with encouragement. They will make the world a better place.”
If you would like to read more about Marilyn or find her book please visit: www.marilynbrooks.com