Born into a Russian-Jewish family in 1930, the eldest of five sisters, Rykiel began her career in fashion as a window dresser for textiles store Grande Maison de Blanc. Her segue into design came fortuitously in 1962 when, unable to find stylish clothing to wear during her pregnancy, commissioned an Italian supplier to create a dress and sweater ensemble, kickstarting her namesake business as a go-to for practical, modern clothing for Europe’s increasingly female workforce. As such, she became known for her feminist stance, making her much admired.
One of Rykiel’s earliest designs, called the ‘Poor Boy Sweater’, featured on the cover of French Elle magazine, propelling her name. Through her continued innovation in knitwear, she was dubbed by industry newspaper Women’s Wear Daily the Queen of Knitwear, upon which she built a fashion empire, today comprising ready-to-wear, shoes, accessories and fragrances. While Rykiel no longer personally designed the collections, she still served as the company’s honorary president, making the loss of her presence keenly felt.
Top image: Sonia Rykiel photographed by Pierre Guillaud.
We go behind-the-scenes to explore the Isabella Blow: A Fashionable Life exhibition