French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel, half Romanian, dies at 86

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French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel, born to a Russian mother and a Romanian father, has died on Thursday, aged 86. Famous for her colorful knit outfits, Sonia has been suffering from Parkinson since the late 90s. She publicly addresses this subject for the first time in 2012 in a book.

Coming from an intellectual and upper class family, Sonia Rykiel was born in Paris on 25 May 1930. Daughter of a Russian mother and Romanian father, she was the eldest of five sisters. In 1948, At the age of 17, she was employed to dress the window displays in a Parisian textile store, the Grande Maison de Blanc. In 1953, Sonia married Sam Rykiel, owner of Laura, a boutique selling elegant clothing in the 14th arrondissement. It is in this same store, located 104 avenue du General Leclerc, that she created and sold her first sweaters. They had two children, (Nathalie, born in 1955 and Jean-Philippe in 1961).

In 1960, one of her sweaters was on the cover of Elle magazine. Audrey Hepburn then comes by the store Laura and buys 14 sweaters designed by Sonial Rykiel (which will later be known as the « poor-boy sweater ») in every colour. Besides Audrey Hepburn, among her famous customers were Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve.

In 1962, unable to find soft sweaters to wear during her pregnancy, she used one of her husband’s suppliers from Venice to design her own sweaters. Rykiel then created her first maternity dresses and a tiny sweater, called the Poor Boy Sweater, which she started selling from her husband’s label “Laura”. The Poor Boy Sweater made the cover of ELLE fashion magazine, and brought Rykiel fame; because of it, she was crowned “Queen of Knitwear” by the Americans in 1967.

In 1980, Rykiel was voted one of the world’s 10 most elegant women.

In December 2009, Rykiel and H&M introduced “Sonia Rykiel pour H&M”, two masstige operations with the Swedish retailer.

Rykiel made brief appearances in Robert Altman’s Prêt-a-Porter (1994), whose main character she inspired, and in the 2010 film Bill.

In 2008, a special fashion show celebrating the brand’s 40th birthday pays tribute to Sonia Rykiel. On July 14 the same year, Rykiel is promoted Commandeur de l’ordre national de la Légion d’Honneur.

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