Influential Parisian designer, Sonia Rykiel, died Thursday at the age of 86, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. The pioneering designer, famed for her colourful knitwear and free spirited attitude, shook up the fashion scene from launching her own fashion house in 1968, to the sad news of her passing only a few days ago.
Rykiel’s feminine style came to typify a new generation of liberated women, sitting at the top of a male dominated world during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, amongst big names like Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfield. The designers tongue-in-cheek style and notably brightly striped sweater dress, saw a departure from the stiff and restrictive designs of women’s clothing during the period.
“It is a sad day but Sonia Rykiel leaves behind her an extraordinary legacy,” Mr Jean-Marc Loubier, chairman and chief executive of First Heritage Brands, parent company of the Sonia Rykiel label, told Reuters.
Rykiel’s first experience in fashion design came when pregnant with her second child. Unable to find something to suit her pregnant belly, she created a tight-fit jumper, dubbed the ‘Poor Boy Sweater’. With a style completely revolutionary for its time, the sweater made the cover of Elle in December 1963, before her designs grew in popularity.
“I wanted to make a sweater for a specific woman – myself,” Rykiel wrote in her 2012 memoir N’oubliez Pas Que Je Joue (Don’t Forget That I Am Acting). “(I) 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.”
Throughout her career, the designer remained true to knitwear, using humble jerseys and cottons with fluid, innovative shapes. Although often branching out, Rykiel knew what she loved and continued to create wearable ensembles for practical wear. She blurred the divide between day and evening wear and always favoured pants over skirts. Rykiel’s designs were deemed both flattering and practical, making reversible garments and clothing that could also be worn inside-out. She was also one of the first designers to print words on her knitwear, which of the time was completely unheard of.
In her 2012 memoir, Rykiel disclosed that she had Parkinson’s disease for 15 years and had kept it secret, until she could no longer hide the symptoms. The family eventually sold control of the label to Hong Kong investors.
Loved by everyone from Brigitte Bardot to Carrie Bradshaw, her designs provide endless inspiration for the fashion industry as a whole, and we are so sad to see her go.