Rykiel in 2009
25 May 1930
Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris, France
|Died||25 August 2016
|Occupation||Fashion designer, writer|
|Spouse(s)||Sam Rykiel (m. 1953–68)|
Sonia Rykiel (née Flis; French pronunciation: [sɔn.ja ʁi.kjɛl]; 25 May 1930 – 25 August 2016) was a French fashion designer and writer. She created the Poor Boy Sweater, which was featured on the cover of French Elle magazine. Her knitwear designs and new fashion techniques led her to be dubbed the "Queen of Knits". The Sonia Rykiel label was founded in 1968 upon the opening of her first store, making clothing, accessories and fragrances. Rykiel was also a writer and her first book was published in 1979. In 2012, Rykiel revealed that she was suffering from Parkinson's. She died from complications of the disease on 25 August 2016.
Early and personal life
Sonia Flis was born into a Jewish family in Neuilly-sur-Seine on 25 May 1930. Her mother was a Russian housewife and her Romanian father was a watchmaker. She was the eldest of five sisters. In 1948, at the age of 17, she was employed to dress the window displays in a Parisian textile store, the Grande Maison de Blanc.
Rykiel often wore her clothes from her own label and stuck to wearing dark green, brown, navy and black garments. Of her style, Rykiel said, "I hate wasting time getting dressed. I like to put something on and just think: 'Yes. That's it.' When I'm tired I like to dress very simply – perhaps a black crêpe jacket and black crêpe trousers." Rykiel was also known for her distinctive hairstyle – red hair cut into a bob with a heavy fringe.
In 1962, unable to find something to wear during her pregnancy, Rykiel used an Italian clothing supplier to design and create a dress and a sweater, which was comprised of high cut arm holes and a shrunken fit to cling to the body. The practical and modern style led to orders from her friends and became known as the Poor Boy Sweater. Rykiel started selling the sweaters from her husband's store and the Poor Boy Sweater made the cover of French Elle magazine, bringing Rykiel fame. Actress Audrey Hepburn bought 14 sweaters in every colour. Rykiel's husband helped her to create the Sonia Rykiel Company in 1965. In 1968, Rykiel opened her first boutique store on the Left Bank.
Rykiel invented various fashion techniques. She was the first designer to put seams on the outside of a garment, leave hems unfinished and use slogans on her sweaters. She has also been credited with popularisation of wearing black. In 1972, Rykiel was dubbed "Queen of Knits" by Women's Wear Daily. She was also known as "Coco Rykiel", a comparison to Coco Chanel. In 1977, she became the first designer to create a line of clothes for mail order firm 3 Suisses. The following year, she launched her first fragrance called Septième sens (Seventh Sense). Rykiel contributed to the interior decoration for the Hôtel de Crillon and the Hôtel Lutetia.
Rykiel designed and created the costumes for the French musical comedy Les Dix Commandements. Nathalie Rykiel was appointed president of Sonia Rykiel in 2007. In October 2008, at a fashion show celebrating the brand's 40th anniversary, tributes were paid to Rykiel. Thirty fashion designers, including Ralph Lauren, Jean Paul Gaultier and Giorgio Armani showcased their visions of the "Rykiel woman". The brand and its designs were also the subject of an exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris from 20 November 2008 to 20 April 2009. The Sonia Rykiel Exhibition was curated by Olivier Saillard. In December 2009, Rykiel and H&M introduced "Sonia Rykiel pour H&M", two masstige operations with the Swedish retailer. An event was held at the Grand Palais in Paris to celebrate the collection.
From January 2012, Sonia Rykiel became majority-owned by the Hong Kong-based First Heritage Brands, part of the investment company Fung Brands. Fung Brands acquired 80 percent of Sonia Rykiel, with the Rykiel family retaining a 20 percent stake. That same year, Canadian designer Geraldo da Conceicao succeeded April Crichton as the artistic director of Rykiel. Julie de Libran took over the role during the following year.
Rykiel was also a writer. She wrote several books about fashion, a collection of children's stories, magazine columns and an epistolary novel with Régine Deforges. Her first book Et Je La Voudrais Nue (I Would Like Her Naked) was published in 1979. In 2012, she co-authored N'oubliez pas que je joue (Don't forget it's a game) with journalist Judith Perrignon.
Music and film
Rykiel makes a cameo appearances in Robert Altman's 1994 film Prêt-à-Porter. Altman was inspired to make the film after attending one of Rykiel's ready-to-wear fashion shows. The lead character played by actress Anouk Aimee, was based on the designer. Rykiel appears as Hortense in the 1998 French comedy film Riches, belles, etc.. She appears as herself in the 2010 documentary Bill Cunningham New York.
Rykiel died at her home in Paris during the morning of 25 August 2016, aged 86. Her death was caused by the complications of Parkinson's disease. Rykiel revealed she had been suffering from the disease for fifteen years in 2012. She is survived by her children Nathalie and Jean-Philippe Rykiel. President François Hollande called Rykiel "a pioneer", while Jean-Marc Loubier stated "It is a sad day but Sonia Rykiel leaves behind her an extraordinary legacy."
- Oscar from Fashion Group International of New York (1986)
- Officer of l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1993)
- Award for Design Excellence from the Chicago Historical Society's Costume Committee (1994).
- Officer of l'Ordre National de la Légion d'Honneur (1996)
- Trophée Whirlpool des Femmes in Gold entrepreneurial award (1997)
- Commander of the National Order of Merit (2001)
- Woman of the Year from the Association des Amis du Musée de Tel-Aviv (2002)
- Promoted to Commander of l'ordre national de la Légion d'Honneur (2008)
- Grande Médaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris
- Promoted to Commander of l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her contribution to arts and literature (2012)
- Promoted to Grand Officer of the National Order of Merit (2013)
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