Canadian Fashion Connection – Maggy Reeves

Maggie Reeves, 1972

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.

Beaded evening gown, c. 1970, image courtesy of Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

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.

Lame cape by Reeves, c. 1980s, image courtesy of Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

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.

Printed chiffon dress, from the former collection of Alan Suddon, image courtesy of Karen Augusta Auctions

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.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
This entry was posted in Canadian dress. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection – Maggy Reeves

  1. liz says:

    I’m pretty sure Karen Kain was married in a Maggy Reeves wedding dress, in 1983.×594

    • Jonathan says:

      I found another photo of Karen wearing an identified Maggy Reeves, so she must have gone to her a few times.

  2. Katherine says:

    Maggy Reeves was a lovely lady! My Aunt worked for her in Toronto, which allowed me to meet Maggy on a few occasions. As a 2o year old young lady, I was in awe of the boutique, and Maggy would encourage me to try on clothes (which I could never afford) it was like playing dress up! As for Karen Kains, Maggy Reeves did indeed design her wedding gown!

  3. Rosalind Guder says:

    I worked for Maggie in the late 80s until shortly after Otto’s death. I have a lot of memories from that tiny, cramped workshop! I remember many of her clients, too, and remember some of their peculiarities!

  4. Victoria says:

    Many years ago my mother was close friend of margarethe. She gave a book to my mother about emperor.
    I’m sorry that she passed 2008.
    MY mother passed 2005. Hope they are dancing in heaven.

  5. Meg courtney says:

    Maggy was my grandmother. I would love to chat with you.

    • Jonathan says:

      I hope I got the history right – I pieced it together from several different sources and articles. There wasn’t a lot written about her. Do you have your grandmother’s archives or know where it is? I would love to chat too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.