Friday, August 26, 2016

French Without Tears

Sonia Rykiel flashing a rare smile
Sonia Rykiel died in Paris this week at age 86. I came of age in the '60s and Sonia Rykiel spoke to my generation of young women, full of confidence in ourselves to handle careers, husbands (or lovers), chidren and family (if we wanted) or complete independence. We felt like pioneers because we were.

Sonia was one of the few French designers whose work reflected this new freedom. Her designs were more wearable and affordable than French couture. Most notably her innovations (the poor boy sweater, culottes, flowing lines in knitwear, subdued but romantic dresses, minimal ornamentation) were widely copied and filtered down to those of us who, sadly, could not quite afford to shop at her left bank boutique.

Early Rykiel

It has always surprised me that French women have the reputation for being austere and disciplined dressers. While her designs eschewed frippery, they were always easy and playful. Sonia came up with innovative touches like reversible dresses and jackets, exposed seams and hemlines with frayed edges. She whipped up delicious inky hues one year and switched to hot tones the next. She always chose basic black for herself, capped with a head of flaming red hair worn with her trademark "fringe". We also have Sonia to thank (or blame) for being first to add words like mode or amour onto her designs.

Sonia's La Belle Parisienne

Sonia Rykiel embraced womanhood and designed her clothing to be worn by women of all ages. Interviewed in 1987, she said "We are working women. Also we have the problem of children, of men, to take care of our houses, so many things. I try to explain that in my clothes. They are clothes for everyday life." It probably sounded better in French.

Although she retired in 2009, Sonia's daughter Nathalie had long worked with her and the brand is still going strong.

Fall 2016 campaign

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