Sonia Rykiel, the French designer dubbed the “queen of knitwear” whose relaxed collections helped liberate women from stuffy suits, has died.
President Francois Hollande‘s office announced her death in a statement, praising her as
“a pioneer who offered women freedom of movement.“
For the generation of women who came of age in the 60s and 70s, Rykiel — with her hallmark bright orange hair — came to symbolize the new era of freedom.
Rykiel got her start by designing knit maternity dresses for herself and became a fixture of Paris’ fashion scene in 1968 when she opened her shop when student riots were challenging France’s establishment. The designer’s empire grew to include menswear and children’s lines as well as accessories, perfumes and home goods, sold in the label’s stores on four continents.
Her daughter, Nathalie Rykiel — who as a young woman used to model her mother’s garments on the catwalk — has long helped manage the fashion house. The business was among France’s last major family-owned labels until it was sold in 2012.
Rykiel’s star pieces include the “poor boy” sweater — often in black with jewel tone stripes or emblazoned with messages or graphic motifs like oversized red lips — knit tops with embroidered roses and funky, rhinestone-studded berets.
She was born in Paris on May 25, 1930 and married Sam Rykiel, the owner of a Paris boutique, and had Nathalie at 25. Early on in her career, Rykiel was wracked by doubts. She told the Le Nouvel Observateur in 2005,
“When I started in fashion, for the first 10 years, I said to myself every day, ‘I’m going to quit tomorrow. People are going to figure out that I don’t know anything,’ I always thought I’d be discredited in the end.“
Rykiel is survived by Nathalie and son Jean-Philippe. She was 86.