Marilyn BrooksMarilyn Brooks, fashion designer (b at Binghamton, NY 13 Nov 1932). Marilyn Brooks was raised and educated in Detroit, Mich. At the early age of 8, she developed a skill for sewing and fostered her interest in fashion through studying the fine arts. While attending Wayne University, Brooks was employed as a display director at Franklin-Simon's department stores (1959-1961). Following her studies, she moved to Canada and attended the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. She continued her interest in display design and directed the retail visuals at John Northway & Sons (1961-1963).
After working for several years in the Canadian retail industry, Brooks and her husband John opened the Unicorn in 1963 - a one-of-a-kind boutique in the heart of Toronto's shopping district. The shop featured apparel for women, housewares and unique pieces displaying Brooks' eccentric aesthetic. During this period, she also launched her self-titled label and created Canada's first vertically integrated retail business, enabling her to have full creative control over her brand.
In 1970, Marilyn Brooks incorporated her business, closed the Unicorn, and launched a string of retail stores across Canada called "Marilyn Brooks Boutiques." She quickly expanded her business to the US, opening her first American outlet in the heart of San Francisco's fashion district. Following the success of her retail venture, the Marilyn Brooks label was picked up by several specialty retailers.
Brooks was known for her use of transparency in dress design as well as for adventurous pieces like the chain bra, black satin hotpants and her signature vinyl jumpsuit. Her daring creativity carried over to accessories, including purses resembling clock towers and bird cages - all in tune with her passion for thought-provoking fashion and joyful humour.
In 1970, at the height of her success, Brooks began to explore new mediums. She developed a television series on Citytv called Making It with Marilyn (1971-1972), designed costumes for Doug Henning's The Magic Show in Toronto, and produced a line of uniforms for Ontario's Expo 1986 pavilion.
Throughout her career, Marilyn Brooks has led several initiatives intended to bring attention to the Canadian fashion industry. She was the founding president of the Toronto Ontario Designers (TOD) board (1976) and the regional director for Canada's Fashion Group International (1984). In 2000, she became the first president of the Fashion Designers Council of Canada (FDCC) and continues to sit as a member of America's Color Marketing Group (1988). Additionally, she contributed to the City of Toronto's economic development plan to increase fashion exporting in a nation-wide "twinning" project.
Her investment in the city of Toronto was recognized when the mayor declared 3 Feb 1988 to be Marilyn Brooks Day, honouring the designer for her 25 years of commitment to the local fashion community. Additionally, in 1993 Brooks received the Award for Excellence in Fashion Design from the City of Toronto.
In 2000, Brooks was awarded the ORDER OF ONTARIO for her outstanding contribution to the Canadian fashion industry. The award recognized her for the success of the Marilyn Brooks label and her continued mentorship of young talents.
Marilyn Brooks continues to be deeply invested in several philanthropic organizations, including Fashion Cares, Women's College Hospital, the Hospital for Sick Children, Parkinson Society Canada, Trans Canada Trail, UNICEF and BIG BROTHERS AND BIG SISTERS OF CANADA.
In addition to her fundraising efforts, Brooks is at the forefront of education in fashion. She has served on the advisory board for Seneca College and continues to serve on the advisory board for RYERSON UNIVERSITY.
Today, Brooks resides away from the fashion industry at her home on Lake Rosseau, Ont, but continues to provide a leadership role through speaking engagements for business organizations and at universities, colleges and high schools.