Fashion, Features

the Life and Death of Sonia Rykiel

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French fashion designer and celebrated “Queen of Knitwear”, Sonia Rykiel has passed at age 86. French President François Hollande  announced her death this morning in a statement lauding Rykiel "a pioneer" who "offered women freedom of movement”. Finding her voice in fashion during the 60’s and 70’s, Rykiel’s designs have always been about providing the new era of empowered women with equally empowering clothes. Her sweaters came to symbolize freedom and rights for women over the course of her life. Alongside an illustrious fashion career, Rykiel was also author of numerous children's stories and an A to Z of fashion.
Models backstage at Sonia Rykiel's AW16 show.

Models backstage at Sonia Rykiel's AW16 show.

Not bad for someone who started designing at the age of 32 to keep busy while pregnant. Wife of a Parisian boutique owner, Rykiel began selling her sweaters in her husband’s business where the now iconic Poor Boy Sweater was picked up by an Elle France fashion editor. Months later it appeared on the cover modelled by Françoise Hardy, spurring customers from all over the world (reportedly including Audrey Hepburn) to flock to their little shop at 104 avenue du General Leclerc.
Sonia Rykiel's Poor Boy Sweater on the cover of a 1963 issue of Elle France.

Sonia Rykiel's Poor Boy Sweater on the cover of a 1963 issue of Elle France.

More than 50 years later, the striped sweater is still recognizable. Sonia’s daughter Nathalie Rykiel, who has been charge of the family business since 1998, has theories as to why that might be. “The little jumper became a symbol of the 1970s. It was the alter ego to the pair of jeans. At the heart of the story was freedom of movement; women who were never constricted by their clothing, which adapted to them in the way they sat, drove a car, or ran to catch a bus.”
Models at Sonia Rykiel's ready-to-wear AW06 runway show in Paris. Photo courtesy of Pierre Verdy/AFP/Getty Images.

Models at Sonia Rykiel's ready-to-wear AW06 runway show in Paris. Photo courtesy of Pierre Verdy/AFP/Getty Images.

And Sonia Rykiel was that quintessential Rykiel girl. Divorced in 1968, a career woman and business owner, a single mother of two, Sonia Rykiel refused to be constricted by others’ expectations of what a woman should be until the end. Banner image courtesy of SoniaRykiel.com By Lindsay Cooper

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