Born into a wealthy Viennese family on October 11, 1924, Margrethe Katharina Weisz was the daughter of a Jewish father and Catholic mother. In 1937, her father fled Nazi-occupied Austria; Margarethe, her mother and sister, moved to the countryside for the duration of the war. In 1947, Margarethe married a childhood sweetheart and had a son, but the marriage lasted only two years. Joining her father in the Dominican Republic, she discovered he had bigamously married a niece of Rafael Trujillo, the country’s dictator.
Margarethe married again, this time to a wealthy Texan but after living a couple of years in Dallas, they divorced and she moved to New York where she became an apprentice pattern maker. In 1953, she moved to Montreal where she gained experience as a junior designer.
In 1955 Margarethe resettled in Toronto with her son and, with the help of three seamstresses, began designing custom clothes. A sign in the window of her Bayview Avenue home read: L’elegance – Paris, Toronto, Haute Couture.
In 1957 a client named Reva Joseph invested the necessary backing to expand the business that would be called Maggy Reeves after a combination of their first names – Maggy and Reva. People assumed Maggie’s last name was Reeves, so soon after the salon opened on Cumberland Street she adopted ‘Maggie Reeves’ as her professional name.
In 1962 Maggy married Otto Somlai, a Hungarian who had fled the 1956 revolution. Third time lucky – Otto and Maggy remained married until his death in 1991.
In October 1964, a fashion show by Reeves at the Park Plaza Hotel was well received and orders for suits, coats and ball gowns flooded in. Maggy Reeves’ name became recognized across the city and her salon became known for quality-finished garments using luxurious imported fabrics. Twice a year Reeves bought her fabrics directly from textile mills in France, Italy and Austria. Although she worked primarily as a couturier, Reeves created a line of suits and separates for exclusive shops, such as Ira Berg and Holt Renfrew, in the early 1980s.
For her couture evening wear, Reeves made glamorous, not ‘sexy’ clothes “If you wear something too tight that shows your bumps,” she once told a reporter, “you will look like a snake that has swallowed eggs.”
After her husband Otto died in 1991 Reeves business slowly declined as she accepted fewer commissions and reduced her workforce until only one part-time seamstress remained. One of her most faithful clients was Marilyn Lastman, wife of North York and Toronto’s mayor Mel Lastman, who had Reeves design almost every gala gown she wore for thirty years.
Maggy Reeves died April 9, 2008, in Toronto.