Twice bestowed the Legion of Honor by French presidents, Sonia Rykiel (pronounced ree-KYEL) was a recognizable icon of French style with her pale face, masses of red hair, mascara-rimmed eyes and almost always dressed in black. Rykiel was born Sonia Flis in Paris on May 25, 1930, the oldest of five daughters. Her Romanian born father was a watchmaker and her Russian born mother a housewife. At 17, Rykiel got a job as a window dresser in a Paris store, and in 1953 married Sam Rykiel, who owned a Paris boutique.
13 Apr 1973, Fanny Sweater by Sonia Rykiel
According to Rykiel she began designing clothes n 1961 while pregnant with her second child and couldn’t find any maternity clothes that appealed to her. Rykiel wanted something that celebrated her pregnancy not hide it, so she designed an outfit that consisted of a fitted bodice and flowing skirt.
She was one of the early proponents of the French ready-to-wear boutique movement and began selling some of her early designs through her husband’s store. In 1968 the couple divorced, and in May of that same year Rykiel opened a boutique on the left bank selling maternity and knitwear, in the trending neighbourhood of St.-Germain-des-Prés. Her clothes, designed for the liberated, working-woman-on-the-go in mind, took off in the 1970s. Rykiel became best known for re-inventing knitwear into flattering, sexy designs that hugged the figure and made the body look slimmer. Her clothes were soon donned by women of all ages for everyday use.
Rykiel product lines expanded in the 1980s to include clothing for men and children, perfume and cosmetics, lingerie, and accessories. By 1990, the business had grown into a global enterprise of 200 retail outlets. Her daughter Nathalie became the company’s artistic director in 1995 and its president in 2007. Rykiel retired in 2009, and in 2012, Fung Brands, an investment firm backed by two Hong Kong billionaires acquired 80 percent of the company.
Rykiel died at the age of 86 on Thursday (August 25) from complications from Parkinson’s.