RIP Sonia Rykiel, Who Turned Fashion Inside-Out (Literally)

sonia Rykiel illustration paula mangin

Yesterday heaven got a whole lot brighter when Sonia Rykiel, the “Queen of Knitwear”, burst through the gates in a trail of orange hair and purple yarn. She had “fucking Parkinsons” and died in her home in Paris. She was 86.

Ms. Rykiel focused on knits, perfect for everyday life. But instead of designing shapeless neutral sweaters that hid the body, she boldly created colorful ribbed knits that hugged and heroed all shapes and sizes, including the pregnancy belly that inspired her to make her own clothes in the first place. From The New York Times:

Ms. Rykiel began designing clothes when she was carrying her second child, in 1961. At a time when maternity clothes were made primarily to conceal bulging midriffs, she could find nothing she liked in stores. They all seemed to convey shame, apologies or suggestions of embarrassment. So she designed an outfit for herself, with a fitted bodice and flowing skirts — one that celebrated her pregnancy.

Her signature style, developed in the ’60s, was the striped, shrunken “poor boy” sweater, designed in soft knit fabrics to take the shape of the body, not force a shape on it. In fact, she encouraged women to lose the undergarments, unheard of at the time. She made relaxed clothes so we all could relax. She was a true feminist who helped liberate style.

She also turned fashion inside out, literally, buy designing “inside-out” garments with exposed seams and raw hems.

Photo by Dominique Swain.

Photo by Dominique Swain.

Not only did Sonia Rykiel make sweaters sexy, she also made clothes that were timeless and ageless:

“….Instead of making clothes for young women and assuming older women trying to look young would buy them, too, she designed dresses, trousers and jackets for no age group. Some critics called it absurd, trying to squeeze young and old into similar clothes. But others said they were becoming on matrons and 20-somethings, and they were comfortable, durable and reasonably priced.” Source: 8/25 New York Times.

And talk about giving Father Time the Finger. In an article she wrote for The Guardian in 2008 titled, “What I see in the mirror.” She says:

“I can smoke, and I can drink, and I don’t really keep fit — I would love to do it more. I don’t think I would ever have plastic surgery; there isn’t anything I’d want to change. My view is that you have to deal with who you are. It’s hard work, in a way, but somebody has to do it.”

I’ve been devouring articles about her since yesterday; I have learned so much. She wrote a novel, a children’s book and multiple magazine columns! She was in the Robert Altman movie “Pret-a-Porter.”! She was given the Legion of Honor award!

And as currently as 2015, she continued to push boundaries, sending models down the runways in happy chatty groups, instead of alone and uptight.

Ms. Rykiel certainly did not die alone and uptight. Referred to Parkinson’s Disease as “fucking Parkinson’s”, she left us as an independent, non-conforming, joyous riot.

Have fun up there, Ms. Rykiel. Thanks for making our life so much brighter down here.

If you want to add some Sonia Rykiel to your closet and your heart, click here to visit her website. Fittingly, there is a tab labeled “Rykielisms”, her philosophies on life, to which you will find this:

“…Rykielism extols the liberation of women through sensuality, intelligence and irreverence. Rykielism is about having the freedom to be oneself. It s a way of life that’s chic and offbeat.”

That’s something we all can buy.


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