UPDATE: On May 4, Suzanne Rogers issued a statement on Instagram, saying, "I do not have any kind of relationship with Donald Trump, good or otherwise," and "I regret that my actions caused anyone to question my values or commitments to the communities and causes my family and I hold so dear." The post has received criticism online for shirking responsibility of her actions.
Original story follows.
Suzanne Rogers X TRUMP: It’s the collab that nobody asked for, and few were anticipating. Sure, Rogers is a member of one of Canada’s most moneyed dynasties with a weekly ballgown budget that probably exceeds your monthly rent. But is she also a post-insurrection Trump supporter? It’s hard to surmise otherwise after the Canadian fashion plate and philanthropist documented a special evening with the ex-American president in Florida on her public Instagram account over the weekend. The offending images have disappeared, but the outrage lives on (and so do the receipts — TGF screen grabs).
A lot of the commentary so far has come from the Canadian fashion community. Ryerson University, home of the Suzanne Rogers Fashion Institute (SRFI), issued two separate (and sort of conflicting) Instagram statements. Meanwhile, on Twitter, some critics are endorsing a Rogers services boycott, while others are wondering whether dinner with Donald qualifies as “essential travel” during a pandemic. There have even been calls for Rogers’ resignation from the charity initiative that bears her name. Could that actually happen? Has Rogers offered any explanation for her Trump hang? And what in the name of basic brand management was she thinking?
We unpack the Canadian/Floridian fashion/political scandal below.
First things first: Who is Suzanne Rogers?
Up until about 48 hours ago, Rogers (who married Rogers telecom heir Edward Rogers in 2006) was known to many as the fairy godmother of Canadian fashion, famous for her over-the-top fashion statements and signature sky-high hairdo. For years, she has funded Canadian fashion success stories like Greta Constantine and Sid Neigum. In 2016, she pledged $1 million to launch the Suzanne Rogers Fashion Institute at the Ryerson School of Fashion — a career incubator for up-and-comers — and followed up with a second million-dollar donation in November 2020. Rogers has raised an additional $3.7 million for children’s charities with her annual Suzanne Rogers Presents event — a fashion show slash power lunch that has brought global stars like Oscar de la Renta, Zac Posen, and Victoria Beckham to Toronto.
Rogers’ social circle is a who’s who from the local ladies who lunch crowd. Unlike her husband though, she wasn’t born into the luxe life. Before marrying into Canada’s telecom dynasty she was “just like us.” As a 20-year-old, she cleaned toilets at a resort in Muskoka and waitressed at Kelseys which, come to think of it, may be the polar opposite of the dining room at Mar-a-Lago, where Rogers’ recent Trump encounter took place.
What was in the offending Instagram post exactly?
The post was actually a series of stories chronicling “dinner last night at @themaralagoclub.” (Trump’s resort and residence in Palm Beach.) In the first clip, we see Edward Rogers and the couple’s two sons preparing to enter the premises, dressed in matching preppy spring attire. Next, we flash to an inside view of the restaurant...then a supremely gaudy painting of Trump (captioned as “The Donald” in Rogers’ video). All of this is alarming, but the clincher is a snap of all four Rogers family members (Suzanne included) posing with the ex-POTUS himself — they’re grinning, he’s flashing his signature thumbs up. “A special way to end the night!” is how she describes the up-close-and-personal Trump encounter. Or at least it was. The footage, which went up some time Saturday a.m. and was first called out by media watchdog Canadaland around 1 p.m., had been pulled by mid-afternoon.
Looks like Rogers chair @EdwardSRogers was hanging out at Mar-a-Lago last night: pic.twitter.com/cZGOGzlz8e— CANADALAND (@CANADALAND) May 1, 2021
What on earth was she thinking?
Honestly, it’s a bit of a beehive-scratcher. The fact that the Rogers family would go to dinner at Mar-a-Lago isn't that shocking. (Trump has a lot of uber-wealthy fans who support him behind closed doors.) But to advertise the connection on social media suggests that this woman is either A) ignorant enough to not understand the offensive optics or B) understands those optics and doesn’t care. (Refinery29 Canada reached out to Suzanne Rogers for comment and her representative did not respond.) Even if you remove the moral reprehensibility, neither of these scenarios are a good look on a woman with connections to the country’s largest telecom company (paging @RogersMediaPR) along with so many other public-facing organizations from Ryerson, to the SickKids Foundation (of which she is a board member), to the Toronto Blue Jays, the latter which is owned by Rogers Communications.
Have any of those organizations commented?
The scandal has been making the rounds on the gossip circuit and social media where critics have tweeted about cancelling their Rogers subscriptions and questioning whether dinner with Donald qualifies as “essential travel.” (Note that Canada’s current policies against non-essential travel are recommendations, not rules. The potential for consequence would be if Rogers or her family members failed to observe current quarantine rules upon returning to Toronto.) In terms of notable public reactions, the vast majority have emerged from Toronto’s fashion community. Designer Michael Zoffranieri (@zoffranieri) was one of the first to disavow Rogers publicly (“We do not stand for white supremacy,” he said in an Instagram post where he acknowledged how he had benefited from Rogers' financial backing, but couldn’t keep silent), while industry influencers, including Lisa Tant (former editor-in-chief of FLARE) have stepped down from their positions on the SRFI advisory board. On Monday afternoon former Ryerson film student Dan Levy tweeted “That’s not it, @RyersonU” — a cryptic comment that appears to refer to Ryerson’s handling of events.
What’s going on at Ryerson?
Apparently not a lot of inter-departmental coordination. On Saturday afternoon, the social media channels for the Ryerson School of Fashion commented explicitly on Rogers’ post, saying the curriculum and culture at the school of fashion “actively works to challenge, resist and undo the values, structures and practices of white supremacy, exclusion and discrimination that we feel Trump actively enforced and executed during his time [in office]." The post also called out the impact of his presidency on “members of the fashion industry who are low income, Black, brown, Asian, disabled, Indigenous, trans, queer and/or part of other systemically marginalized communities.”
A few hours later, that post had been removed and disavowed by Ryerson University, replaced by a more generic and toothless statement about values and diversity. Dr. Ben Barry, the chair of the fashion school, posted the updated statement on Twitter, adding, “These are @RyersonU words not mine.” A headline in Sunday’s Eyeopener (the Ryerson student newspaper) reads “Ryerson accused of ‘silencing’ fashion school following retracted statement on Suzanne Rogers photo with Trump.”
Has Ryerson responded?
Nothing publicly beyond that original statement, but stay tuned. The day after the images disappeared, Anjli Patel, a lawyer and Ryerson instructor who created the “Fashion and Law” curriculum, posted an open letter to the school’s president Mohamed Lachemi. In it, she makes the case for why Ryerson can call for Rogers’ resignation despite accepting her $2 million in funding. So far, her post has gotten likes and clappy hand emojis from a lot of Toronto fashion scene notables. Ryerson did not respond to Refinery29 Canada’s question about whether Rogers’ Trump ties could impact her position at the school, but offered a more general comment on the school’s “commit[ment] to the core principles of academic freedom and freedom of thought and expression.”
As an alumni, I’m disappointed to see the university respond this way to the original post by Ryerson Fashion. It simply asked to speak to Rogers on issues, as her impact as a donor is enormous, and an association with Trump is a challenge to our values of inclusion and justice. pic.twitter.com/7rQoggAzkm— Ange Wallace (@awallacemsc) May 2, 2021
Has Suzanne Rogers responded?
So far, crickets. It’s worth noting that unlike, say, a Jessica Mulroney, Rogers is not an influencer — she doesn’t have brand contracts to consider and will probably opt to keep a low profile in the hopes this whole thing blows over.
Will it blow over?
At this point it’s hard to predict what the broader fallout might be. So far, none of the country’s major media publications has covered the story despite its ties to business, media, fashion, entertainment, and sports. Which is kind of puzzling and could be interpreted as a sign of exactly how powerful the Rogers family is.
This story originally said Michael Zoffranieri received funding from the SRFI. In 2017, he received the TFI New Labels award that was sponsored by Rogers. We regret the error.