Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gowning achievement

OLGA BORBELY is packing up her patterns after thousands of local women said YES TO HER DRESS

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After 35 years designing gowns, Olga Borbely knows the only thing a bride tends to love as much as her partner is her wedding dress.

Sitting on the well-worn stool in the fitting area of her Corydon Avenue fashion salon, Borbely and her daughter, Agi Libor, flipped through a yellowed photo album.

On each page, a different woman's face smiled up. Pictured in Borbely's salon, some women wore business attire, others were in ornate evening gowns and many of them wore flowing wedding dresses.

"It's interesting," Borbely said of working with the brides. "Because you remain part of it for the rest of their life, because of the garment you made."

Each wedding gown Borbely crafted started from scratch with the bride's needs in mind. "The wedding gown is so utterly different from everything else," Borbely said. "You can't rely on the style you did before."

Borbely has crafted garments in Winnipeg for nearly four decades and it's likely someone you know owns or was married in one of Borbely's designs. Her work filters through generations and Borbely is proud of her long-term relationships with clients.

"First we'll make the graduation dress," Borbely said. "Then they come back and we make their wedding dress. Then she'll bring her mother and we make her mother's dress."

"I'm happy to see these people again," Borbely said. "It's fulfilling."

Borbely has finally decided to close the business she built from the ground up 35 years ago. Parting with her passion has been bittersweet, but Borbely concedes it's the right decision.

"If I had another life, I wouldn't do anything different," the designer said.

In 1958, Borbely immigrated from the small village of Battonaya, Hungary, to Canada. She had been working as a principal and teaching art when she made the difficult decision to flee the Soviet-occupied country.

On her way to Canada, Borbely met a couple who told her the country was the land of endless opportunity. "I remembered that for the rest of my life," she said.

Borbely's design career began in Winnipeg when she graduated from the now-defunct National School of Dress Designing and Dressmaking.

Before long, Borbely found a job with Tan Jay. She worked her way up the corporate ladder and was head designer for the fashion giant for five years. With a true entrepreneurial spirit, Borbely quit Tan Jay and opened her own shop.

In the fall of 1978, Olga Fashion Salon officially opened on Corydon Avenue.

Business for Borbely has been good for the 35 years she's been at it. She has sewn well over 5,400 garments in her lifetime, not including custom pieces.

Ninety-one-year-old Ruth Seel worked in the front end of Borbely's busy shop for 25 years.

"Somebody would come in with a picture of a dress and we would call Olga to come and see it," Seel said. "By gosh, Olga would make the pattern and everything. It was marvellous."

Decades later, Borbely's shop has changed. It's quiet and unassuming, much like its owner.

There are no seamstresses in the back room, where there used to be four at the business' peak.

There are many more thank-you cards taped to the shop's walls than there were before.

"We have a good collection of those," Borbely said, smiling. "Every time we get a thank-you letter or a customer comes back we're proud."

No official date has been set to close up shop, but Borbely invites everyone who has visited the salon to stop by before it closes and see the many designs in need of loving homes.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2013 B6

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