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Iconic French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel dies at 86

© François Guillot, AFP file picture | French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel in Paris on June 3, 2010

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-08-25

French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel, who was lovingly called the Queen of Knitwear, died on Thursday at the age of 86 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease, her daughter said.

"My mother died at 5am this morning at her home in Paris," Nathalie Rykiel was quoted as telling the AFP news agency.

The pioneering Rykiel was a fixture in the industry for half a century, and has been credited with typifying a new generation of designers who launched their own labels outside the established system of haute couture.

She launched her first boutique in Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris in 1968, buoyed by the Swinging Sixties craze in London.

The same year, she had her breakthrough with the so-called "Poor Boy Sweater", a garment designed for women that had long sleeves and a shorter, fitted shape.

The "Poor Boy" met resistance at first, partly because of its innovative bulky stitches.

Brigitte Bardot and Sylvie Vartan

But all that changed in December 1963 when Elle magazine featured the fashionable 19-year-old French pop star Françoise Hardy on its front cover in a stripey red-and-pink Rykiel jumper.

It caused a sensation – shortly after Brigitte Bardot and fellow singer Sylvie Vartan were photographed in Rykiel sweaters and Audrey Hepburn herself went to the shop and snapped up five of them.

In 1977 she collaborated with French mail-order company “Les 3 Suisses”, and in 1978 she released a renegade fragrance, the “7ème sens”.

Known in particular for her tight, knitted sweaters, the USA’s Women’s Wear Daily magazine declared her the “Queen of Knits” in 1972.

“She rejected linings and embraced exposed seams, defiantly decreeing that the sweater should be worn against the naked skin. Her clothes were black; they were striped. She made clothes for women who wanted total freedom of movement: women who were explorers, lovers, and nomads,” the official Sonia Rykiel website says about her designs.

Over the decades she branched out, but always remained true to knitwear.

Rykiel described her design philosophy as “la Démode”, encouraging women “to be eccentric, to create their own styles, and to adapt fashions to their own bodies, just as she had done for hers”.

Within the French fashion industry, Rykiel will be remembered as an original who helped cement Paris and, in particular, the Left Bank, as the capital of couture.

In 2009, 30 of the world's top designers paid tribute to the flame-haired designer with a fashion show, offering their own take on the inspirational Sonia Rykiel look.

Life and couture

Rykiel was born in the upmarket Paris suburb of Neuilly in 1930, the eldest of five daughters to a Romanian watchmaker father and a Russian mother.

In 1954, she married a clothing store owner, Sam Rykiel, with whom she had two children, and later divorced.

French President François Hollande offered his condolences to the fashion legend’s family and loved ones, calling Rykiel a pioneer who “invented not only a look, but also an attitude, a way of living and being”.

The Socialist president also said that Rykiel’s style, “will remain a symbol of her remarkable work with colour and nature, fluidity and light".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2016-08-25

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