By  on January 31, 2008

PARIS — Sonia Rykiel is kicking off its 40th anniversary year today by inaugurating its renovated flagship on the Boulevard Saint-Germain here, the creative soul of the quirky family-owned brand.

With a new decor that juxtaposes oak paneling with black Plexiglas and black-on-black dot tiling, Nathalie Rykiel, the house's creative director and the daughter of Sonia, calls the shop the embodiment of the "new Rykiel spirit."

"Our mood today tempers humor with elegance," she explained of the expanded 5,500-square-foot space. "We are more Saint-Germain-des-Pres [in spirit] today than ever."

The shop opens as Rykiel gathers momentum for an event-packed year. Founded by Sonia Rykiel in 1968 in the midst of the city's historic student riots, the brand, famous for a certain Parisian insouciance, has been restructuring in a play for growth.

Last month, the house named a new managing director, Francois Steiner, and promoted Gabrielle Greiss to creative director of its top collection. Greiss, who has worked in the studio with Sonia, will take a bow alongside the designer and Nathalie Rykiel after the brand's runway show in Paris in late February.

Designed by Paris firm Rapp and Nogen, the renovated boutique reflects the brand's inherent spunk. For example, apart from the more typical accessories area and knitwear "library" wall, a corner tucked away on the first floor sells sex toys and other erotic paraphernalia.

For the opening, Rykiel has made a series of limited edition "family jewels" mini sculptures dappled in rhinestones as well as a dildo in the form of a flower that disappears into a vase. Erotic sculptures by artist Charles Matton will be exhibited for the opening.

While not prudish, the merchandise underscores Rykiel's cheeky approach. More conventionally, the house has reedited one of its iconic sweaters decorated with two birds as well as a rhinestone bird brooch to commemorate the remodeled store. All of the limited editions are produced in runs of 175, after the shop's address.

Rykiel said having fun was the shop's raison d'être. To wit: the staircase leading to the first floor has an LCD monitor encrusted between two steps. It flashes Sonia Rykiel's favorite maxims from the likes of Confucius to Brigitte Bardot. Another LCD monitor between two steps flashes "heureuse?" or happy.The shop will be merchandised in a fun way, mixing, say, an evening gown alongside glamorous workout wear from the brand's Karma label, Rykiel said. "We want it to be chic and different," she said, who added the redo included the renovation of the house's press and commercial showroom.

Rykiel declined to provide sales projections ("I'm superstitious," she said), but allowed that she expected a significant increase over the shop's previous incarnation. Sources estimate Rykiel had sales of about 100 million euros, or $146 million at current exchange, last year with an increase in revenues of about 10 percent. The house operates 29 wholly owned boutiques and counts 26 franchised stores.

A party will be held tonight to fete the shop. The likes of Isabelle Huppert and Diane Kruger are expected to attend. There will be a concert by CocoRosie and a ribbon-cutting ceremony presided by the mayor of Paris.

Later in the year, Rykiel will continue the celebration. In February, the house will offer special-edition pieces on the runway to commemorate its birthday. In May, Rykiel plans a big block party on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, and in October a museum exhibit celebrating the house will open at Les Arts Decoratifs' fashion museum. In addition, a film is being made and a literary essay is planned for publication this fall.

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