By  on November 17, 2008

PARIS — Firing the final volley in her celebration of 40 years in fashion, Sonia Rykiel is putting on a retrospective of her spunky and insouciant style at Les Arts Décoratifs here. The show opens Wednesday.

Featuring some 200 outfits, the exhibition underscores the manner in which Rykiel crafted one of fashion’s most readily identifiable signatures. It also reveals the influence she had on the generation of designers who came after she founded her business in 1968, said Olivier Saillard, who organized the exhibit.

“Rykiel did minimalism before the Japanese and turned clothes inside out before the Belgians,” said Saillard, who added that the designer’s playful streak influenced the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, as well.

The exhibit caps off a year of feting Rykiel’s milestone, which included a blockbuster fashion show and dinner party in October, when a handful of designers showed dresses inspired by Rykiel. Those pieces, by the likes of Martin Margiela, Christian Lacroix and Ann Demeulemeester, are exhibited in the retrospective.

A book titled “La Femme Rykiel,” has just been published here by Textuel, cataloguing those creations as well as words of admiration spanning everyone from Pierre Bergé and Pierre Hermé to Juliette Gréco and Anna Wintour. It is independent of the exhibition catalogue.

The exhibit is organized by theme and not chronologically because many of Rykiel’s leitmotifs — lace, stripes, rhinestones, black, etc. — have remained constant throughout her career, said Saillard.

“She always took something from the last collection to start the new one,” said Nathalie Rykiel, Sonia’s daughter and the house president. Visitors enter the show via a black rotunda where Rykiel’s recorded voice reads some of her pronouncements on style. From there, display cases are dedicated to knitwear, printed dresses, velour jogging suits, marabou coats and slouchy pantsuits — all Rykiel signatures.

Each window juxtaposes a piece from early in her career with a more recent one elaborating on the same theme. “There was a sense of permanence in her work,” said Saillard. “When you look at the older pieces alongside the more recent, the older ones aren’t out of fashion.”

The second half of the exhibit upstairs includes several windows devoted to large-scale pictures of Rykiel-wearing models by photographer Dominique Issermann. “Dominique participated in the construction of the Rykiel image,” said Nathalie Rykiel. “She took pictures for us for 13 years.”

A portrait of Rykiel by Andy Warhol hangs near a television monitor showing an interview Warhol conducted with her in the Seventies for his short-lived TV program.

The exhibit is rounded off with vitrines dedicated to Rykiel’s chiffon, flowerlike evening confections and a window reconstituting Nathalie Rykiel’s closet, which includes not only the two wedding gowns her mother designed for her, but also pieces by Ralph Lauren, Lanvin and Karl Lagerfeld.

“Sonia Rykiel, Exhibition,” runs through April 19.

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