Sonia Rykiel: Fashion designer and knitwear pioneer dies at 86

Celebrating the life of Sonia Rykiel

Sonia Rykiel, a pioneer in knit dressing and fashion that was comfortable as well as stylish, has died aged 86. She had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for 15 years.

The fashion house that bears her name has made no statement about her death yet but French president Francois Hollande said she was “a pioneer” who “offered women freedom of movement.”

The fashion and lifestyle business, which is now majority owned by Fung Brands, has been overseen by Rykiel’s daughter Nathalie since the mid-90s.

Sonia Rykiel started in the fashion industry by designing maternity knits for herself in the early 1960s and built up a steady following of affluent shoppers and celebrities including Audrey Hepburn.

She opened a store on Paris’s Left Bank in 1968 and later added men’s and kidswear, as well as accessories and fragrance.

During the 1970s she grew the business and was known for her sleek, simple clothes, her striped sweaters and her love of dark tones with bright accents mixed in. Her shock of red wavy hair made her both instantly recognisable and the perfect model for her clothes.

But those clothes were never boring with Rykiel also pioneering the use of visible external seams and slogans on sweaters (often picked out in rhinestones).

She also became the first designer to create clothes for a lower-priced retail collaboration with a 3 Suisses deal in 1977.

Her often-understated but unmissable brand of comfort dressing reflected a wider movement focusing on comfortable designer clothes that also saw the rise of designers such as Calvin Klein in the US and Jean Muir in Britain.

Commenting on the news of Sonia’s death, WGSN Head of Catwalks Lizzy Bowring said: “I grew up with Sonia Rykiel – She was an icon to a young fashion student with her covetable poor boy sweaters and signature stripes. Sonia will live on in my memories.”


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