By  on February 9, 2010

NEW YORK — Oh, the Frenchness of it all.

Sonia Rykiel’s knitwear collection for H&M, bowing Feb. 20 in 20 U.S. stores, has Gallic chic writ large, including “Sonia Rykiel, Riene Du Tricot, Paris,” the legend on a finely textured black sweater. Another sweater spells out “Mon Pull Rykiel.” Even the label has a French accent, Sonia Rykiel Pour H&M.

Nathalie Rykiel, president and artistic director of the fashion house and the designer’s daughter, on Thursday held forth in a booth at the subterranean West Village restaurant Bobo, wearing a spotted fur jacket over a signature sweater. She was in Manhattan to unveil the knitwear collection to the press during an event that evening.

“The essence of Sonia Rykiel is the Parisian woman of Saint Germain des Pres, the Left Bank or Rive Gauche,” she said. “The idea of the collection is to offer the essence of Sonia Rykiel. This [H&M line] is absolutely true to our philosophy, which is about quality and know-how, but not about money. H&M gave me complete freedom with creation and quality. We used pure wool and pure cotton. It’s the DNA of Rykiel.”

She added that “we really tried to keep the prices low,” noting the full-price Sonia Rykiel collection is “eight, nine or 10 times the price.”

Pieces include a black one-shoulder dress with a knit flower, $39.95; a striped tunic, $49.95; a canary yellow sweater with rhinestones, $49, fuschia shorts, $34.95, and a matching blazer, $69.95. Recurring themes include the crown, appearing on rhinestone-accented sweaters, and the bow, which turns up in black on a pale pink and yellow-striped sweater. An oversize jumpsuit and knit bikini are oddly charming. The line also includes “essential” wedge platform sandals, $59.95; hair accessories, $17.95; jewelry, $5.95, and rhinestone-dotted berets, $17.95. A doll with flaming red hair wearing a knit dress bears a strong resemblance to the designer.

A collection for girls sizes 18 months to 8 years features miniature versions of women’s pieces.

“H&M started to work with me on lingerie [which bowed Dec. 5],” Rykiel said. “After two weeks, they came back and asked if I would do another [ready-to-wear] collection,” she explained. “I said, ‘No, but let’s do a knit collection.’”

While eight Sonia Rykiel flagships carried the H&M lingerie, there are no plans to offer the H&M knitwear in the Rykiel’s own stores because it would compete with the full-price line. Sonia Rykiel doesn’t sell lingerie, but Rykiel said she’s considering it after the success of the H&M collection.

Long before the era of designer-with-mass-retailer hookups, Sonia Rykiel in 1973 created a capsule collection for Trois Suisses, a mail-order company. “At the time, our bourgeois clientele didn’t want their secretaries to get something from Rykiel,” Nathalie Rykiel recalled. “Now, really wealthy women and fashion students will be queueing up for the same stuff. It’s changed.”

There are 62 Sonia Rykiel stores worldwide, 35 of which are company-owned. “People are really interested in the brand after 42 years,” Rykiel said. “That makes it right for a new start in the U.S.” Rykiel said the company is planning to open new stores and expand its wholesale distribution, which now includes Bloomingdale’s, Intermix, Maxfield and Ikram.

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