Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Amanda's Fashion Spot speaks with FGI Toronto Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Mary Symons!

Painted by Brenda Bury Source:
           As a young woman who aspires to have a successful career in the fashion industry, speaking to someone like Mary Symons is inspiring. Why you may ask? Because her successful career as a former model, running her own company, Mary Symons Communications and her recent FGI Toronto Lifetime Achievement Award proves that dreams really do come true. I had the fortune of speaking to Mary a few weeks ago and was warmed by her openness and greatly appreciated her career advice.

Having an innate passion for fashion, Mary began her career as a fashion model at the age of 17. By the time she turned 18 she was living in arguably the fashion capital of the world, Paris as she became immersed in the highest echelons of fashion during the 1980's. While living the model's life in La Ville Lumiere she had the fortune of working with legendary fashion designers such as, Yves Saint Laurent, The House of Dior and Jean Louis Scherrer. In Paris, she quickly learned about the relationship between business and fashion. This time was at the cusp of the supermodel era and Mary discovered something that we are now very familiar with, as a model you are more than the beauty in front of the lens, you are a commodity. The public relations side of the fashion business greatly appealed to Mary and once she moved back to Canada at age 25, she immediately began working in public relations with top Canadian designers and brands. In 1993 she started her communications company which now specializes in luxury brands, Mary Symons Communications and in its over twenty years of existence has worked on legendary events such as the Vanity Fair exhibition opening gala, hosted by The Bay at the Royal Ontario Museum, the launch of The Star's The Kit  and the British Invasion Designer Gala for The Room at The Bay, to a highlight a few.

Mary believes that fashion and lifestyle go hand in hand, that fashion is admired and consumed by us for many different reasons ranging from entertainment, economic, lifestyle and, culture. For Mary, luxury has a similar connotation as she reckons that luxury is subjective and that everyone aspires to have some form of luxury in their lives. Owning a piece of clothing from Joe Fresh, for example is just as luxurious as carrying a classic Louis Vuitton bag is for another person. Luxury is not just about material possessions, for Mary it also relates to experiences. Sharing a cup of coffee with a friend on a Saturday afternoon or sipping Champagne at dinner can be equally as luxurious depending on the individual. It could be argued that for Mary, luxury is all about the feeling and experience that one gets through enjoying something that brings them a sense of confidence and ease which helps explain why regardless of the economic state of the world, the luxury market is still able to thrive.

Speaking of which, Toronto has seen a growing influx of higher-end department stores interested in entering the Toronto retail market, with Hudson's Bay selling its flagship store at Yonge and Queen in order to bring in Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom is set to open three locations in Toronto with the Toronto Eaton Centre location expected to open in the fall of 2016. While some may fear that the American luxury retail invasion will have a negative impact on already existing Canadian high-end department stores such as Holt Renfrew and Hudson's Bay, Mary remains optimistic about the future of Toronto's fashion industry believing that these new retail stores will inevitably enhance Toronto's global fashion image and hopes that it will be a doorway that opens Toronto's talent to the world. Mary is so proud of how Toronto's fashion industry continues to grow and expand the pool of world class talent. She hopes that Canadian brands such as, HBC continue to thrive. With terrific places for young, emerging talent to learn and foster their talent such as Ryerson University and the Toronto Fashion Incubator, Mary feels Toronto will continue to flourish because as a city we support and encourage all facets of the industry.

In the years that Mary has spent working in the fashion industry, she has seen firsthand how social media has changed public relations. Mary is amazed by how social media has changed our ability to connect with people because unlike a print magazine or television show for example, in an instant anyone is able to communicate with thousands of people around the world with a single tweet or Facebook update. However, despite the broad international reach that social media allows Mary believes that there is something about the tactile touch of a newspaper or magazine that is difficult to replicate with social media. Mary also feels that person-to-person communication is critical because there is nothing like the feeling that one gets when meeting someone in person and hopes that that feeling does not get lost in the digital world.

The following quote by Maya Angelou, "When you learn, teach. When you get, give" is a statement that I firmly believe in, which is why I was eager to hear what career advice Mary would be able to provide for young women who desire to have a successful career in the fashion industry. Mary advises that young women must be open to the ever-changing fashion industry and that young women must be fearless, follow their gut instincts, be passionate and take leaps of faith. Mary continued to say that although it may take time for people to see their career dreams materialize, they must believe in themselves, be confident, never give up and always move forward. The advice that Mary provided that resonated with me the most is, not only does your career drive you but you drive your career and if you put enough into your career, you will one day reap what you sow. Mary would know after all because after her involvement with FGI Toronto which included serving as the Regional Director and later the District Director, she has been recognized for her hard work with a FGI Toronto Lifetime Achievement Award. After all her years in the fashion industry, Mary says the one thing that continues to motivate her is change.

Congratulations to Mary Symons for her prestigious FGI Toronto Lifetime Achievement Award and thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Thank you to FGI and Lotus Leaf for providing me the exciting opportunity to interview Mary Symons!

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