Right about 5:46pm (SGT) yesterday, news broke of famed fashion designer Sonia Rykiel’s passing. She was 86 and gave in to Parkinson’s, a disease she was first diagnosed with 20 years ago.
Her eponymous label hasn’t been on the lips of fashion buyers much of late. But Sonia Rykiel’s ground-breaking and timeless designs undoubtedly changed the way women felt and dressed, putting her on the same pedestal as Mary Quant and Coco Chanel.
Sonia Rykiel’s influence wasn’t just restricted to womenswear too. If you’re reading this while snugly wearing a typography-printed jumper (whether it’s AMI, Kenzo or even Vetements), you’d have Sonia Rykiel to thank for that. She pioneered printing words on knits and was in fact dubbed “Queen of Knitwear” by Women’s Wear Daily back in 1972.
We pay homage to Sonia Rykiel by taking a look at some of her lesser known achievements and moments that truly made her a fiery force to be reckoned with.
She never did study fashion
While pregnant in 1962, she sketched her first knitwear designs because she couldn’t find anything to wear. She wanted to proudly display her baby bump but all that were available were slouchy, oversized jumpers. “I wanted to make a sweater for a specific woman – myself,” she penned in an article for The Guardian. And continued to do so throughout her career without any formal training in fashion design.
Going beyond private runway shows
There’s hardly a second thought given when it comes to filming or even live-streaming runway shows now. But Sonia Rykiel did it first. And who was behind the lens of the first ever filming of a runway show? None other than the Kaiser himself. Karl Lagerfeld was a long-time friend of Rykiel’s and was seen as her contemporary and competitor. In an article by Vogue, Lagerfeld revealed that his mother had little to say about his work at Chanel in the 60s but was an ardent fan of Sonia Rykiel.
“I’m not brave, I’m not fantastic. I’m like any other woman. I’m unhappy. I’m difficult. I’m sad. Am I strong, too? Maybe, but not always. There are days when I don’t want to see anyone. The most important thing you learn? You can live with it.” – Sonia Rykiel
She suffered silently for 15 years
Sonia Rykiel was first diagnosed with a mild form of Parkinson’s in 1996 but kept it from everyone; including her daughter Nathalie who she was “very close to”. It was a frightening experience for Rykiel especially since her mother was also diagnosed with the disease and had harrowing memories of her suffering during a time when there was little knowledge about Parkinson’s. Despite the illness, she continued to design and contribute ideas even after handing over the label to her daughter.
More than just a fashion designer
She went public with her disease in 2012 by co-writing a tell-all book in French, N’oubliez Pas Que Je Joue (Don’t Forget That I’m Acting) where she referred to the disease as “putain de Parkinson’s” (in English: bitch of Parkinson’s). Prior to that, she was the author of several fashion books, magazine columns and stories for children.
The designer collaboration OG
Way before Balmain X H&M and the upcoming Kenzo x H&M, Sonia Rykiel was one of the first noted fashion designers to collaborate with a lower-priced brand. In 1977, she designed a collection for French-based 3 Suisses. She even went on to collaborate with H&M twice (in 2009 and 2010), tying with Versace for the most number of times H&M has worked with a brand.
Rest in peace, Sonia Rykiel. Thank you for your vision and strength.