Posted on February 13 2020
The legacy of fiery-haired Sonia Rykiel is a bright and colorful one. Often compared to Coco Chanel as Coco Rykiel, she brought the same trailblazing, rebellious spirit to her designs. Also like Chanel, Rykiel went into fashion to create things that she herself wanted to wear; she was her own muse. Nicknamed the "Queen of Knits" by Women's Wear Daily in 1972, Rykiel was known for her bold use of color and stripes in her knitwear designs, her bright red hair, and for bringing the party to the catwalk.
PHOTO: W Magazine | at the opening of "Sonia Rykiel: 25 Years of Creation" in Paris, 1993
PHOTO: THEREDLIST.COM | Sonia Rykiel Polaroids by Andy Warhol, 1986
"I never studied fashion – even now, it's always been about what I want to do at any given moment. I wanted to make a sweater for a specific woman – myself – because I wanted to dress differently, but couldn't find the clothes I had in mind for a woman of 30 who has come home from work to go to the theatre and then wants to go out for dinner afterwards." -SONIA RYKIEL, The Guardian
Sonia Rykiel was a self-taught designer who followed her instincts. Pregnant with her second child in 1961, Rykiel couldn't find maternity clothing that she wanted to wear- pieces that were fitted and comfortable, but above all, stylish.
PHOTOS: WWD/Roger Viollet | Sonia Rykiel working at Sam Rykiel's boutique Laura, 1967, 1965
Rykiel's husband at the time, Sam Rykiel, owned a ready-to-wear boutique. When an Italian sales rep came by with sweater samples, Rykiel took the opportunity to request a custom maternity dress for herself. She called available maternity options abominable; "...all seemed to convey shame, apologies or suggestions of embarrassment. So she designed an outfit for herself, with a fitted bodice and flowing skirts — one that celebrated her pregnancy."(New York Times) The Italian company produced fine knit jersey pieces for her that clung to the body, revealing her baby bump.
“I wanted to show the world how happy I was,” Ms. Rykiel told Newsweek in 1976. “My mother-in-law was scandalized, but my friends asked how they could find one like it.” -SONIA RYKIEL, New York Times
Rykiel later went on to request a fitted sweater with high armholes and tight sleeves. Apparently, Rykiel's design was so unique that the sweater sample was re-done seven times before the iconic ribbed stripe "poor boy sweater" was approved. (The Guardian).
PHOTO: Elle Magazine | Francoise Hardy in Sonia Rykiel Sweater photographed by Marc Hispard for Elle France, December 1963
An Elle Magazine editor happened to be in the store and see the sweater when the final version arrived, and it was immediately photographed on Françoise Hardy for the cover of the magazine. This was the first time a ready-to-wear look had been featured on the cover of a magazine, and it caused a sensation. The sweater was quickly snapped up by the likes of Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, and Audrey Hepburn- Hepburn bought 14, one of every color- and an icon was born.
PHOTO: Getty Images
Always designing with wearability in mind, Rykiel made clothes that were sexy, relaxed, comfortable, and timeless for all ages- what she called la démodé, or non-fashion. She wanted to give women the freedom of movement and encouraged her customers to wear her sweaters sans bras. With little change between seasons and collections, Rykiel established her brand with consistent key players- including unlined knits, colorful stripes, cheeky printed slogans, and lots of black. Her first sloganed sweater featured the word "sensuous," and she was the first to use words in her designs as both a bold statement and graphic element.
"She rejected linings and embraced exposed seams, defiantly decreeing that the sweater should be worn against the naked skin," according to her website. -NPR
Rykiel was also known for shaking up the fashion show scene. While other shows were serious and somber, Rykiel celebrated women on her runway. They danced down the catwalk in groups, smiling and having a great time. These fun parties were the inspiration for Robert Altman's 1994 film, Prêt-à-Porter, after he had the chance to attend a Rykiel runway show. We would have loved to attend one of her shows.
PHOTO: Getty Images
"I always believe in pants. You can play with your legs, your attitude, with pants. It's much more funny. It's much more sophisticated. It's much more arrogant, like a man with feminine attitude. I love pants." -SONIA RYKIEL
PHOTO: Sonia Rykiel
“I think creativity is inside you,” Ms. Rykiel told The Times Magazine in 1982. “If you have something to tell, you expose it. I never went to any design school. I was so strong in my thinking and my way of seeing fashion, I knew exactly what I wanted. I said to myself, ‘I have no limits.’” -SONIA RYKIEL, New York Times
by Erica Sanae