Sonia Rykiel, the pioneering Parisian fashion designer, passed away this morning at the age of 86 after a decades-long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. An icon in France, her passing was officially announced by the county’s president François Hollande.
“She had invented not only a style but an attitude, a way of life and gave women freedom of movement,” Hollande said in a statement. “I convey my sincere condolences to her children Nathalie and Jean-Philippe and their family and close ones who are in pain.”
Rykiel started her fashion empire back in in the ’50s simply because she couldn’t find anything comfortable to wear during her pregnancy, even at the Parisian boutique owned by her husband.
“My husband had a ready-to-wear boutique called Laura but there was really nothing in it that I liked,” she told The Guardian in 2014. “I wanted to wear clothes that would make me stand out from the crowd … so I decided to have a few things made up for me.”
With no other options, Rykiel took it upon herself to design an outfit to her liking, by working with her husband’s suppliers. The result was the first of Rykiel’s sweaters, which boldly showed off her pregnancy. Eventually dubbed the “poor boy” sweater, the closely cut, comfortable piece set off a fashion craze in 1963. The French fashion press caught on, and the story goes that soon after none other than Audrey Hepburn walked into the boutique and bought five sweaters for herself.
Remembering Sonia Rykiel’s Bold, Eccentric Personal Style
NEW YORK CITY – DECEMBER 6: Sonia Rykiel attends The Best Awards Gala on December 6, 1981 at the Rainbow Room in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Portrait taken on March 21, 1984 in Paris shows French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel. AFP PHOTO PIERRE GUILLAUD / AFP / PIERRE GUILLAUD (Photo credit should read PIERRE GUILLAUD/AFP/Getty Images)
Sonia Rykiel arrives at Plaza Hotel, NYC, 1988. (Photo by Rose Hartman/Getty Images)
Sonia Rykiel during a party for the fight of AIDS in Paris – 1989. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
Sonia Rykiel and Bernadette Lafont – Premiere of the play “Mortadela” in 1992. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
Sonia Rykiel and Nathalie Haute Couture fashion show spring summer 1992 collection in Paris. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
Sonia Rykiel – Cartier Foundation party – 1992. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
Sonia Rykiel – Yves Saint Laurent ready to wear fashion show spring summer 1993 collection in Paris. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
Designer Sonia Rykiel honored at The Fashion Group International ‘Night Of Stars 2001: Dynasty – Generations of Design’ awards gala at Cipriani 42nd St. in New York City. 10/24/2001. Photo: Evan Agostini/ImageDirect.
Sonia Rykiel and Jean Louis Dumas from Hermes fashion house, awards ceremony of Legion of Honor to Jean Paul Gaultier at Maxim’S in Paris 2001. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
396399 13: (ITALY OUT) Designer Sonia Rykiel and her daughter Natalie arrive at the 18th Annual Night of Stars Awards presented by the The Fashion Group International October 24, 2001 at Cipriani in New York City. (Photo by Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM – DECEMBER 13: Designer Sonia Rykiel, Designer Sonia Rykiel Finally Opens A Shop In London, The Party Moved On To Berkeley Square Where Everyone Danced The Night Away. (Photo by Dave Benett/Getty Images)
FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 09: Sonia Rykiel in Paris, France on September 09, 2002. (Photo by Alain BENAINOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Sonia Rykie, designer and daughter Nathalie Rykiel (Photo by Marc Ausset-Lacroix/WireImage)
Sonia Rykiel – Sonia Rykiel fashion show masculine collections spring summer 2007. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE – JULY 08 : Fashion designer Sonia Rykiel attends the Jean-Paul Gaultier: Paris Fashion Week Haute Couture A/W 2009/10 at the JP Gaultier Studio on July 08, 2009 in Paris, France. ( Photo by Foc Kan/Wireimage )
Sonia Rykiel backstage at her Fall 2011 show in Paris, France, March 2011.
PARIS – OCTOBER 02: Nathalie Baye and Sonia Rykiel attend the Sonia Rykiel Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2011 show during Paris Fashion Week on October 2, 2010 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Remembering Sonia Rykiel’s Bold, Eccentric Personal Style
Rykiel’s tightly fitting sweaters would come to define the look of Paris’s Left Bank in the ’60s, and helped to free women from the more cumbersome fits of suits and shoulder pads. She relied on a woman’s body to provide the silhouette, and called her creations “clothes that have no shape unless they are worn.”
Rykiel expanded her knitwear line. Eventually, she embraced stripes, which would become a trademark of her designs. She’s also credited with being the first to knit words directly onto a sweater. A full on fashion house was established in 1968, and by 1972, Women’s Wear Daily had coronated her as “the queen of knitwear,” a moniker that stuck with her for the rest of her career.
Established as an icon, Rykiel’s influence in the fashion industry was celebrated at her brand’s 40th-anniversary show. Rykiel’s daughter Nathalie Rykiel, who had succeeded her mother as artistic director of the brand in 1995, arranged for 30 of the world’s top fashion designers to contribute their own takes on Rykiel’s look. Each designer celebrated Rykiel’s vision of chic comfort. Rodarte sent in a knitted sweater and skirt combination emblazoned with the word “Obama.” Jean Paul Gaultier designed a slinky knitted dress held up by two actual oversized knitting needles. Karl Lagerfeld contributed a black cardigan with orange and beige stripes. It was featured on top a pair of silk pajamas that were printed with a portrait of Rykiel herself. Appropriately the pieces were not only chic, they were also comfortable.
Watch Sofia Coppola’s tour of the Sonia Rykiel studio, with the brand’s current creative director Julie de Libran: