On Thursday the 25th of August news broke that French Designer, Sonia Rykiel, had passed away at the age of 86, after nearly two decades battling Parkinson’s disease.
Dubbed the ‘Queen of Knitwear’ due to her bold, bright and inventive designs, it was her ‘Poor Boy Sweater’ design that caught the attention of French ELLE magazine, eventually landing on its December 1963 cover, effectively helping to launch one of the great design careers of out time. Below is a brief overview on Sonia Rykiel, highlighting a few historical moments of a career and life filled with many more.
After marriage to a French boutique owner, Sam Rykiel, Sonia was frustrated at the lack of stylish maternity clothing on the market at the time of her pregnancy. So she made her own and thus the iconic ‘poor boy’ sweater was born. The sweater has since had a revival in the Sonia Rykiel 2014 Autumn/Winter ready-to-wear collection.
ELLE France’s December cover shows singer and actress Françiose Hardy in a Sonia Rykiel striped sweater.
Sonia and Sam divorced, then she went on to open her first stand-alone store in Paris on the Left Bank. It was a time of student protests and she had to close early on the first day because of the riots. Later, people would say that her clothes reflected the spirit of freedom in Parisian society.
Following the success of her Parisian boutique, her clothes were picked up by Bloomingdales’ and Henri Bendel in New York. The Bloomingdales’ store now has its own store-within-a-store for Sonya Rykiel.
The brand produces its first slogan sweater with the word ‘Sensuous’ printed across the chest, and ELLE France features it on a cover, making it her second ELLE France cover.
Sonia again made history when she showed a collection that mixed her designs with the creations of other designers- as they would be worn in real life.
The first of her many books Et Se La Voudrais Nue (a novel in diary form) is published. You can still buy it today.
Sonia is invited to help redesign the interiors of the Hotel de Crillon in Paris. The penthouse suite and the lounges remain to this day.
Again she ventures into the world of interior design, this time at the luxury Parisian Hotel Lutetia.
This is also the year she is immortalised in art. Andy Warhol paints four portraits of her, emphasising her famous triangle of red hair.
Time for another store in Paris! The flagship Sonia Rykiel store is opened on the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and the Rue des Saints-Pères.
She is featured in the film Pret A Porter. This satire of the fashion industry was inspired by one of her shows.
The brand opens a lingerie and erotica shop called Rykiel Woman. Nathalie (Sonia’s daughter and by this time the brand’s Creative Director) is quoted saying ‘it worked out, because my mother strove to liberate women.’
The brand’s 40th anniversary. Nathalie throws a party in honour of her mother and as an added surprise she asked several designers to design dresses in homage to the Rykiel style.
Other institutions pay homage to Sonia. She is invited to host a retrospective at the Museé des Arts Decoratifs.
Sonia is made a commander of the Légion d’honnuer (the highest French order for civil and military merits) by the president in recognition of her 40 years in service to the French fashion industry. French President Nicolas Sarkozy presents her with her award.
The brand collaborates with H&M to produce a spectacular 50s inspired lingerie line. Lily Cole is the star of the show when the line is unveiled amongst chandeliers and horse heads on the runway.
Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, is photographed in several Sonia Rykiel belts- something Sonia finds more exciting than even Madonna buying her designs.
Sonia publicly announces her Parkinson’s diagnosis. She has been struggling with the disease since first diagnosed in 1997.
We said goodbye to this formidable giant of French fashion after she passed away in August. May she rest in peace.