The Modern Parisienne
Celebrating The Work Of Sonia Rykiel

With the sad passing of French designer Sonia Rykiel announced earlier today, we look back at our fashion history essay on the legendary Queen of Left Bank chic. From literature to striped Matelot knits and numerous high profile collaborations – Rykiel re-wrote the rule book on what being a female fashion designer working in Paris entails.


When the American press bestowed the accolade of ‘Queen of Knits’ onto Sonia Rykiel in 1967, the designer had been in business for a mere few years. Born in 1930 in Neuilly, a tranquil town close to bustling Paris, as one of five daughters, Sonia married boutique owner Sam Rykiel at the age of 23. During her first pregnancy, Rykiel was unable to find soft, supple and practical knitwear, which inspired her to work alongside one of her husband’s Venice based suppliers to fill that apparent gap in the market. Having succeeded in creating the elusive garment, Rykiel continued, specialising in comfortable, yet chic maternity wear. A small shrunken knit jumper proved to be the standout product of Rykiel’s repertoire. Known as the ‘Poor Boy Sweater,’ the design was perfectly in sync with the fashions of the era. Recognising its potential, of the moment fashion publication Elle dressed one of its cover stars in Rykiel’s knit. Throughout the following decades, Rykiel was to build one of Paris’ most in-demand brands, far exceeding the City of Love’s borders. Looking at past images capturing Rykiel’s work, the most striking attribute is the collection’s focus on the wearer, Rykeil has a knack for casting models as powerful and confident heroines.

While principally known for knitwear, Rykiel was an innovator of fashion and many of today’s quotidian design features first appeared bearing the brand’s distinctive black on white label. These include exposed stitching, using the production process as decoration by revealing inside feature on the outside. An author and member of Paris’ left bank intelligentsia, who penned many a book, including the A to Z of Fashion, Rykiel further experimented with language and letters to the extent of being the first designer to use words as prints. Throughout her work, Rykiel championed feminist causes, and her designs aim to dress a confident and thinking woman – albeit as chic as possible and in a spirit never far from Paris’ cobbled streets. Since the Spring 2015 season, designer Julie de Libran has been reinterpreting the brand’s heritage, with collections that return to Sonia Rykiel’s focus on intellectual fashion and complete wardrobes.Similarly, Julie de Libran’s collections include outfits for all segments and eventualities of everyday life. FB

ALSO READ:  Rick Owens & Three Other Fashion Designers Who Make Art


Sonia Rykiel by Julie de Libran Spring/Summer 2016