Sonia Rykiel

Born: Athens, Greece, 1972
Died: Paris, France, 2016

Designer Biography Sonia Rykiel

Image: copyright © AFP / Collection Roger-Viollet

At the age of seventeen Sonia Rykiel’s fashion interest began when she was hired to dress window displays in a Parisian textile store. After meeting her husband Sam Rykiel, the owner of boutique specialising in elegant clothing, she married him in 1953.

While pregnant in 1962, Rykiel had problems finding soft sweaters to wear. With no formal training and via a Venice supplier used by her husband she began to design her own sweaters. With her sweater returning seven times for alterations she started to experiment with seams, hems and linings.

Her first sweater, called the Pooat thre boy Sweater, was sold in her husbands shop, it made the cover of Elle magazine and the Americans crowned her ‘Queen of the Knits’ in 1967. Opening her own boutique in 1968, by the seventies it was firmly established, specializing in knit wear. She later went on to add menswear, childrenswear, cosmetics and a household line.

In 1980 Rykiel was voted as one of the world’s ten most elegant women and in 1995 she collaborated with Malcolm McLaren on the song ‘Who the Hell is Sonia Rykiel?’ In 1998 she celebrated 30 years in fashion with a show encapsulating her successful style. At the same time she received a tribute in French Vogue. In February 2005 Rykiel launched an in-store shop for the Sonia Rykiel Woman line in New York along with the other three boutiques in the U.S.

Having been honoured by the French Ministry of Culture, Rykiel was the first designer to put seams on the outside of a garment and put print words on her sweaters.

Sonia Rykiel’s creative talents extended beyond fashion design. She collaborated on the costumes for the French musical comedy Les Dix Commandements and also ventured into writing. She authored books on fashion, children’s stories, magazine columns, and an epistolary novel with Régine Deforges. Her literary journey began with her first book, “Et Je La Voudrais Nue” (I Would Like Her Naked), published in 1979. In 2012, she co-wrote “N’oubliez pas que je joue” (Don’t forget it’s a game) with journalist Judith Perrignon.

Additionally, Rykiel made her mark in the music and film industries. She collaborated with Malcolm McLaren on the song “Who the Hell is Sonia Rykiel?” featured in McLaren’s 1995 album Paris. The acclaimed director Robert Altman drew inspiration from her ready-to-wear fashion shows and featured her in a cameo appearance in his 1994 film Prêt-à-Porter. Altman’s lead character, portrayed by Anouk Aimée, was based on the renowned designer. Rykiel also played the character Hortense in the 1998 French comedy film “Riches, belles, etc.”

Sadly, Sonia Rykiel passed away at her Paris home on August 25, 2016, at the age of 86, due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, which she had been battling for fifteen years. She left behind an extraordinary legacy, and her contributions were recognized and admired by figures like President François Hollande and Jean-Marc Loubier. Rykiel is survived by her children, Nathalie and Jean-Philippe Rykiel.

Sonia Rykiel Biography

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Written by Saxony Dudbridge

Saxony Dudbridge was one of the first contributors to the Catwalk Yourself project, Saxony studies International Fashion Marketing and she is responsible for our great History and Designers Biographies sections.

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