Suzanne Rogers and Sylvia Mantella are more than two of Toronto’s most elegant, philanthropic and sensational women — they’re a couple of mothers and best friends who love their families and each other fi ercely. Lifestyle editor Jeanne Beker spoke to the dynamic duo about their similar upbringing, their affi nity for giving back, their undeniable style and what it’s like being in the spotlight. Here’s what the perfect pair told her.
By Jeanne Beker
Photography by Chris Nicholls
Post Production by Patty Watteyne
Suzanne Rogers:
Styling by Cary Tauben, The Project
Hair by Klodi
Makeup by Jessica Savedra
Sylvia Mantella:
Makeup by Cia Manderello & Patrick Rahme
Hair by Kirsten Klontz & Helen Kenny

You could call them kindred spirits: United by common passions for family, philanthropy and fashion, Suzanne Rogers and Sylvia Mantella share a special bond of friendship that’s as inspiring as it is enviable. As Toronto’s most sartorially glamorous powerhouses, the two blonde dynamos have helped raise millions of dollars for a variety of charitable causes, and continue to sponsor and chair a dizzying number of memorable community events. From helping children, animals, and aspiring designers to supporting hospitals and museums, Suzanne and Sylvia have proved themselves to be indefatigable cheerleaders for a wide range of heartfelt causes, and they do it all with great aplomb.

As the wives of two of Toronto’s most high-profile and successful businessmen — Suzanne is married to Edward Rogers, chairman of Rogers Communications Inc., and Sylvia is married to real estate developer Robert Mantella, president and CEO of Mantella Corporation — these unstoppable gals explain their close friendship as one of those things that happened organically. “When you hit it off with someone and they just become a very important part of your life,” reflects Suzanne. It was 2008, at a Bill Clinton event at the Rogers’ residence, when the pair first met. “I’ll never forget it because I didn’t really know anybody in the house, and Suzanne came right over and took my hand and pulled me through the crowd,” recalls Sylvia. “She introduced me to Bill, Matt Damon and all these incredible celebrities who are also very philanthropic and I don’t remember ever leaving her side. It was just such a connection.” Not long after that very first meeting, Suzanne launched her initial “Suzanne Rogers Presents” event to support children’s charities — a signature production which, for that first go-round in 2010, boasted an impressive runway collection from the legendary Oscar de la Renta. Sylvia eagerly came on as a lead sponsor and committee member. It marked the first collaboration between the newfound friends, and proved to be a partnership made in heaven. The two claim they’ve never had a fight or argument because they have so much respect for each other. “We communicate,” Sylvia stresses. Suzanne pipes in, “Friendship should be easy. And this is definitely an easy friendship.”


Each the mother of three, the like-minded ladies have even more in common than their lavish lifestyles and love of serving the community in meaningful and fun ways: Both are of eastern European descent. First-generation Canadians, they’re the children of immigrants who came here with little and scrimped and saved to give their families a better life. Their parents’ examples provided untold life lessons about survival and values. “Our backgrounds are very, very simple. We came from humble beginnings,” explains Suzanne, who was born in Elliot Lake, Ont. “My father was a miner and my mother ran a daycare. People always ask me, “How does it feel to be a Rogers? And my answer has always been, ‘I was Suzanne Kolev until I was 35!’ I’ve been Suzanne Kolev with my background long before I was married. So to me, that never leaves. And the frilly dresses and the fashion shows, that’s icing on the cake. But my background is very solid from where I’ve come from. I dressed in Goodwill clothing until I was 11 years old. My prom dress was $20. I picked it out at a vintage shop in London, Ont. So my sense of style also comes from pulling from the high and the low, and that just comes from my background. You know, there is always a backstory.”

And when it comes to the importance of backstories, Sylvia is on the same page. Her parents immigrated to Canada in 1968. “My father escaped from a once occupied Hitler Czechoslovakia, which then became the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, with Soviet backing,” explains Sylvia. “My mom went to Austria and was literally walking the street with friends, and somebody approached her and said, ‘Do you want to go to Canada? The Canadian Embassy is paying people to come to the country.’ And she got on a plane with another boy and a girl. She spoke no English. And they gave them $100, and she came to Canada and then my parents met. And so I come from very, very humble beginnings. You just don’t forget that.”

Considering their similar backgrounds of coming from so little, perhaps it’s not hard to understand the spirit of generosity that both Suzanne and Sylvia are famous for. As one might imagine, countless requests for support are constantly coming across their desks. How do they decide what to throw their weight behind? “It’s just what feels right,” says Suzanne. “It’s just something that will come across my desk, and I’ll know. Okay! That’s the one! I can make a difference here.” Sylvia concurs. “I think that we probably receive dozens of asks in a week, predominantly in the areas of children and domestic violence. And I’m very honoured to serve on the board of directors for CANFAR, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, which is really important to me. And Suzanne sits on the foundation board of SickKids Hospital.”

The Canadian fashion flag is something that both Sylvia and Suzanne also wave proudly, and both have been staunch supporters of some of our greatest homegrown design talents for years. And because Suzanne realizes that opening doors can be key to a designer’s success, she founded the Suzanne Rogers Fashion Institute at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) in 2016, a fellowship program to help graduates launch their debut collections, meet potential employers and pursue their fashion dreams. As well, her monetary awards to young Canadian designers via the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (CAFA) have also been highly lauded. Of course, what Suzanne would really like to see is the return of Toronto Fashion Week. “I think that would put us on the map, at least a little bit. We have the talent. We definitely need more support in that area,” she opines. “I think we’re still very much in the background. But there’s definitely potential for us to be taking more of a centre stage in Canadian fashion. We do have incredible talent, but it’s been slow to happen, that’s for sure.” Sylvia laments that our Canadian designers don’t have the kind of platform they deserve. “And that’s something that we’d love to be a part of,” she says. But both women agree that the biggest problem for our fashion industry is funding. “That’s what it comes down to — dollars and cents for these Canadian designers,” offers Suzanne. “I really do believe the talent’s there, but to do the kind of marketing they need to do, to get that kind of financing, well it’s just not available to Canadian designers. And until that changes, not much will change.”

It goes without saying that both Suzanne and Sylvia relish any opportunity to personally support Canadian talent, and for this Living Luxe photoshoot, they were adamant about strutting local designs exclusively. They both have a strong and unique sense of style, and while their choices may be different, they have a mutual appreciation of each other’s approach.

“Suzanne is the epitome of elegance,” notes Sylvia. “Every time I see her, even if it’s track pants, it’s so elegant. She’s beautifully put together, just always impeccably dressed. She’s so classic and almost princess-like and gracious. When she walks into a room you know Suzanne Rogers just walked into that room.” Suzanne’s admiration of Sylvia’s style sense is reciprocal. “Sylvia takes risks in her fashion,” she says. “She’s the one who will wear Gaultier during couture, with the big crazy hat or the Balenciaga couture! I don’t take that many risks. But when she’s in Paris for Fashion Week, the cameras just go wild because she’s the one always standing out, taking that chance in fashion and always switching up her looks, always looking different. And I really admire her for that.”


Sylvia’s sometimes wild sartorial ways usually take a backseat to one of her other major passions: rehabilitating wild animals. In 2010, she and her husband founded the Mantella Exotic Animal Sanctuary and Conservation in Florida, a private, non-profit, privately funded facility that’s a virtual Shangri-La for a plethora of beautiful creatures, and Sylvia is very hands-on when it comes to caring for them. She attributes her great love of animals to the fact that she was an only child until she was about 15, when both her parents remarried. “Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of friends and animals were my friends, especially our dogs, fish, cats. And so, I developed a huge passion. Even when my family would go up north and visit friends, I’d be in the grass looking for toads and for mice that I could save,” she laughs. Her husband is a huge animal lover, too. “He was also going to the lakes and catching toads and the same sort of thing. And, because we were spending a lot of time in the US, we realized that there was a real space that wasn’t being addressed, and that was animals that needed rescue from displacement, abuse and neglect and exploitation,” she explains. And so, the wildlife sanctuary was born. It’s a place that’s brings her untold joy, and Suzanne is quick to sing the reserve’s praises as well: Sylvia hosted an intimate birthday party there for Suzanne’s 13-year-old son! Sylvia’s specialty these past 10 years has been in rehabilitation of the animals. “It’s mostly the smaller animals. I leave the tigers or lions to Robert. But primates and several sloths, I think we have 27 now. We have well over 200 animals, and it’s just something we both can’t even imagine not doing, not being there. Every animal has a name, all 200 of them,” she says proudly.


With their busy lifestyles, both women are rarely in the same place together. Yet they still try to hang out as much as possible, and with husbands Edward and Robert having become great friends, it makes for fun times. But it’s in their roles as mothers that Suzanne and Sylvia perhaps feel the strongest connection: They’re both adamant about making sure their kids don’t take their privileged lives for granted. “My children have seen both sides,” says Suzanne. “They’ve seen the Rogers’ side growing up and the benefits and the security that comes from that, and they have my mother telling them that she stood in a food line in the 1956 revolution. So they see their Hungarian “Nagyi” and they hear all of her stories. And that’s made for a definite balance in my life.” Sylvia instills this in her children, too. She describes her mother, who’s back in the Czech Republic now, as being very down to earth. “It’s really a balance. Because our children are exposed to some incredible things in life, but that also brings some incredible opportunity. And with the charity work that we do, our kids are very, very aware and sometimes they’re involved in it, too. So they understand that. That responsibility is something that’s very prevalent when we’re out in the public.”

Suzanne and Sylvia’s newest project is cochairing a major fundraising event this fall for Camp Fire Circle, formerly known as Camp Ooch. It’s an oncology camp for children with cancer — the only one of its kind in Canada, with a clinic set up right at the camp. “It’s the first time that all these kids can come together as a community and not feel like that kid with cancer in class, because all the children have cancer and that experience bonds them,” explains Sylvia. “When it comes to children and childhood cancer, we try to do whatever we can.”

While these fashionable philanthropists realize the importance of the role they play in influencing our community, they also cherish the influence they have on one another. What’s been the biggest lesson learned from their relationship? “Don’t listen to the noise,” states Suzanne, without skipping a beat. “I know that’s a bit of a cliché statement, but I’m telling you, it’s really true. We honestly have incredible families. We have incredibly supportive husbands, and our backgrounds are incredibly similar. We are grounded. And people see this. And people who don’t know us will sometimes make judgment on this. And that’s an easy thing to do. In the beginning, when Sylvia and I would do events together and we’d be out there, there were a lot of mean things said, a lot of hurtful, hurtful things. And as you get older and as you become more evolved and more grounded as a person and believe in what you do, you do cut out the noise. After being such special friends for close to 15 years, well, that’s what really matters. You do learn that.” Sylvia smiles. “And the people who don’t like or hate or troll, you’re never going to change their minds. And that’s okay. It doesn’t matter. It’s not a part of our life. It’s the people who matter. It’s the people who are friends. It’s the people who care. Those are the people who we keep close. And sometimes that noise hurts at first. But then we’ve got a great family and a great support system to just let us know it doesn’t matter. You have to be happy with your choices. You have to wake up every morning and look in the mirror and you have to live with your life and your choices. And I can look in there and Suzanne can, too.”

Unquestionably, it’s authenticity and that magical combination of compassion, kindness and generosity, sprinkled with a healthy dose of high glam, that make the world go round for both these iconic women. “We love the glamour!” admits Suzanne with a laugh. “But we also love our Lululemon and just going about our day. And occasionally, we throw on things like this. And it’s so much fun!”