Sonia Rykiel, the French fashion designer known as the Queen of Knitwear, died yesterday at the age of 86 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, her daughter told AFP. “My mother died at 5:00 this morning at her home in Paris from the effects of Parkinson’s,” Nathalie Rykiel said. The pioneering Rykiel was a fixture in the industry for half a century, launching her own fashion house in 1968 buoyed by the Swinging Sixties craze in London and the emerging feminist movement. Her easy-to-wear ‘chic’, iconic stripes and bright colours quickly came to typify a new generation of liberated women.
“She invented not just a style but an attitude, a way of living and being, and offered a freedom of movement,” President Francois Hollande said in a tribute. She had made her breakthrough in 1962 with the so-called Poor Boy Sweater, a garment designed for women that had long sleeves and a shorter, fitted shape. The “Poor Boy” met resistance at first partly because of its bulky stitches. But all that changed in December 1963 when Elle magazine featured the 19-year-old French pop idol Francoise Hardy on its front cover in a striped red-andpink Rykiel number. It became a sensation.
Brigitte Bardot and fellow singer Sylvie Vartan were photographed in Rykiel sweaters and Andrey Hepburn herself went to the shop and snapped up five of them. “She typified a new generation of designers who launched their own labels outside the established system of haute couture,” her official website said. Over the decades, she branched out into other branches of fashion, but always remained true to knitwear, with fluid, innovative shapes.
Rykiel was born Sonia Flis in the upmarket Paris suburb of Neuilly on May 25, 1930 as the eldest of five daughters to a Romanian watchmaker father and a Russian mother. She started out her career as a window dresser in a Parisian textile store at the age of 17, but had no formal training. In 1954, she married a clothing boutique owner, Sam Rykiel, with whom she had two children and whom she later divorced. She first publicly revealed she was suffering Parkinson’s in a 2012 book. Within the French fashion industry, Rykiel will be remembered as a visionary who helped cement Paris and, in particular, the Left Bank, as the capital of couture.
She described her philosophy as “la Demode”, a contraction of “deconstruction” and “mode”. In 2008, 30 of the world’s top designers paid tribute to the flamehaired knitwear queen at an exhibition marking her 40 years in the business, offering their own take on the Sonia Rykiel look. “She abolished hemlines and linings, she invented knitwear, she made clothes that were reversible, she used layering,” Olivier Saillard, who curated the retrospective of her work, said at the time. She played herself in Robert Altman’s 1994 satire “Pret-a- Porter” which was filmed during Paris fashion week, and wrote several books. — AFP