When Paris Fashion Week opens on 27th September, the absence of one of the country’s brightest fashion stars will be felt. The ‘Queen of Knitwear’ Sonia Rykiel passed away last month, aged 86, leaving behind a fashion legacy.
Founding her brand in Paris’ artistic area, la rive-gauche, in 1968 she set a president for creativity, freedom of expression and female empowerment.
Her shocking red hair, hooded eyes and skinny jawline are as iconic as her clothing, and were by no means the biggest statement about her. In celebration of the life of this unique designer, we chart some of her most radical moments in fashion.
The Poor-Boy Sweater
Probably Sonia’s most famous creation, her ‘poor-boy’ sweater became an instant hit with women for its comfort. She was often compared to Coco Chanel for liberating women from restricting clothes and this sweater epitomises this philosophy. It was her root into fashion as she made it purely because she was unsatisfied with the sweaters available. She then began selling the simple, striped sweater through her then-husband’s boutique Laura. It was picked up by French Elle who put it on their cover (at a time when haute couture was the standard for cover shoots) and it sold like hotcakes. Audrey Hepburn herself ordered five after seeing the cover shoot. It may have just been a simple sweater but it gave women freedom of movement and the message that they could do anything that they wanted. Going bra-less with your poor-boy sweater was actively encouraged too.
Les 3 Suisses Collaboration
In 1977, Sonia Rykiel created a collection with mail-order company Les 3 Suisses. While today we’re used to seeing luxury labels create affordable lines for high street retailers, this was unheard of when Sonia chose to do it. Much to the surprise of the fashion crowd, it only served to sky rocket her fame and fortune.
While most catwalk shows finish with cold-staring models marching in unison, Sonia brought her philosophy of free-spirited women to her runways too. In 1988 she sent a troop of cheeky-faced children down the runway, followed by dancing, smiling models in 1989 and to this day you can count on the Sonia Rykiel show for a feel-good, uplifting finale with models looking like they’re genuinely having a great time!
Inside Out Clothing
Another signature of her designs was inside-out seams. Again, optimising comfort for women by making clothes with a ‘naked-feel’, instead of hems and stitching that rubbed, it became a style statement. The message was continuously – don’t let anything hold you back.
On the surface, sometimes Sonia Rykiel’s clothing can look a little banal and ‘samey’. She refused to bow to the fashion industry’s constant need for change and instead focussed on timeless silhouettes, comfortable fabrics and styles that would suit anyone, especially through her use of black which was usually only reserved for mourning attire when she first started her business. As a result, her vintage pieces have lasted, she has sold consistently through the decades and the brand remains a popular go-to for women today. She not only liberated women from restrictive clothing but from the constant need to update their wardrobes and be ‘in fashion’ from season to season. With her clothes, you would always be on trend.