Instantly recognisable with her trademark red locks and blunt fringe, style maven and knitwear extraordinaire designer Sonia Rykiel passed away on 25th August 2016.
A career spanning just over four decades, Rykiel arguably could be dubbed the Queen of wool. Her designs are instantly recognizable, with a sexy silhouette and whimsical patterns. With the exception of Italian label Missoni, in my personal opinion, Rykiel was at the forefront of her chosen medium.
Born in Paris, on the 25th of May to a Russian mother and Hungarian father she was the eldest of five girls. Then known as Sonia Fils, at the tender age of seventeen she was employed to dress windows at Parisian textile store “Grande Maison de Blanc”.
In 1953, she married Sam Rykiel and in 1962, expecting their first child, she began designing her own maternity dresses.
These were simple sweater dresses, featuring high cut arm holes and a clinging bodice.
When friends showed interest, she started selling the design dubbed the “poor boy” sweater through her husbands boutique “Laura”.
So popular was the piece, it was featured on the cover of French Elle magazine. And if that wasn’t enough, screen legend, the Divine Audrey Hepburn bought 14 sweaters, one in every colour.
If that’s not the best advertising for a piece of clothing, I don’t know what is!
A namesake company was created in 1965, and in 1968 she opened her first boutique on Paris stylish Left Bank.
Where knitwear had been traditionally quiet staid, Rykiel injected a little interest and humour into her range, and was dubbed the “Queen of Knitwear” by magazine “Women’s Wear Daily” in 1972.
Sexy stripes, reverse seams and bold patterns made for a modern feel and look.
Add to this asymmetrical cuts, cropped sweaters and long clinging knits, it’s no wonder she was an innovator.
The majority of her garments were created in soft wools, angora, mohair and jerseys that feel divine to wear. Luxurious and sexy.
I have a divine brooch fashioned in my favourite shape, the star from her bijoux collection. It always garners compliments wherever I choose to wear it. It is a special favourite of mine.
And she didn’t just design fashion.
In 1978, a fragrance “Septieme Sens (meaning seventh sense) was created.
In 1994 she made a cameo appearance in filmmaker Robert Altman’s sly look at the fashion world “Pret-a-Porter”.
And 1995 saw her collaborate with English enfant terrible Malcolm McLaren on the song “Who the hell is Sonia Rykiel” from his 1995 album titled “Paris”.
She turned her hand to writing too.
Her repertoire included several fashion books, children’s stories and magazine columns.
The majority of her garments were created in soft wools, angora, mohair and jerseys.
Sonia was 86 when she passed from complications due to Parkinson’s disease.
She is survived by her two children Nathalie, who was appointed president of Sonia Rykiel in 2007 and her son Jean-Phillipe.
Jo Bayley, Fashion Editor, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016