VICENZA — With its knitwear expertise, Maglificio Miles is one of Italy’s hidden jewels in the crown. It’s not surprising, then, that Sonia Rykiel, dubbed the queen of knitwear, would forge a long-lasting collaboration with the company and a personal relationship with its founder, Silvia Bocchese.
Together, they created memorable fashion pieces that built the reputation of the French brand over the years. Fascinated by Miles’ techniques and top-level machines, Sonia Rykiel’s creative director, Julie de Libran, continues to work with the company, marveling at its ability to turn her ideas into reality.
“This is the best,” said the affable de Libran of Miles, connecting her thumb and index finger into a circle, in an eloquent and universal gesture of approval.
With Miles, Libran has created a capsule collection called Rykiel Forever, that pays tribute to the late designer and re-creates her archival eye-catching striped knits with contemporary proportions, colors and fit.
“I felt that so close after the passing away of Sonia Rykiel, it was very important to celebrate the creativity and beauty that we have in-house,” said de Libran. “We have almost 50 years of archive that I did not want to be lost. People have been expressing love and attention for the brand, so I wanted to re-create these pieces so that they would not be forgotten, making them relevant for today.”
De Libran emphasized the functionality of the 13 pieces, which will be available starting March 15, each “multipurpose” and easy-to-wear. “These are clever items that you can alternate depending on the mood, for today’s active women,” she said. “These are more items than a collection, and show that knitwear can be sexy, interchangeable, playful, feminine and desirable. They feel Rykiel.”
Pieces include a new “twinset” that has a cape attached to a sleeveless sweater; a multisleeve cardigan that incorporates a scarf; a deconstructed demi-sweater that serves as a cape or a scarf to throw over the shoulders; the knit detail from a sock heel becomes the elbow on a shrunken “poor-boy” sweater; a knit cape or coat, made of super-soft yarn, is reversible and worn either as a stripe or a solid, and oversized sweatshirts and dresses feature the bold graphic “175 Blvd Saint Germain.”
“This is where it all started,” said de Libran. “Rewriting the address on knits is like a starting point, a place to be, it’s like giving a rendezvous on knitwear.”
Materials include a mix of cotton, wool, cashmere and cotton with polyamide.
The collection will be available at boutiques including Joyce, The Corner in Berlin, 10 Corso Como and Sonia Rykiel stores in cities such as Paris, New York and London. Prices range from $185 to $1,600.
During a visit to Miles, de Libran highlighted the stitch-less patchwork of different mesh and lace patterns, and how the effect allowed “transparency without being transparent.”
She showed the shrunken “poor-boy” ribbed sweater, a brand staple since 1962, and how it was revisited with a detail that reproduced the heel of a sock on the elbow, and a voluminous and colorful dress with a parachute net as its lining. All were displayed as evidence of the level of craftsmanship and skills of Miles.
“They improve the techniques as they go,” de Libran pointed out, emphasizing the company’s ongoing research and development, as she skimmed through racks of knits with delicate intarsia, cotton and linen crepe dresses with trimmings with 3-D effects, or pieces embellished with peonies — flowers favored by Rykiel and de Libran.
There is a sense of kinship between the late designer, who died last August, de Libran, and Bocchese, the entrepreneur who founded Miles in 1962 and who has been working with the Sonia Rykiel company since 1989. “Silvia is a self-made woman, who has raised four children and is the same kind of strong woman Sonia Rykiel embodied — the busy, active woman she designed for,” de Libran said.
She herself has shaped her life by moving from California to Italy, where she attended the Marangoni Institute. De Libran, who hails from the French town of Aix-en-Provence, learned Italian in Milan and perfected it, working with Gianfranco Ferré, Gianni Versace and then Miuccia Prada for more than 10 years, before joining Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton in Paris. Her affection for the Sonia Rykiel brand and its founder rings genuine and appears to be entirely in tune with her own vision of fashion.
“She was an icon, not only in terms of creativity, but because she liberated women, dressed them with strength, so that they would be more confident and able to be more active daily, without constrictions,” said the designer.
She revealed an additional and personal link with the brand by reminiscing about the Sonia Rykiel clothes her mother wore. “My mom’s closet was like Ali Baba’s Cave. In the Seventies, she wore Sonia Rykiel. I remember the comfort of her knits and the silhouettes. The brand was a point of reference for me when I was young, as were Kenzo and Saint Laurent in France at the time.”
Of her mother, she underscored that “she was glamorous, but also very active and that left an impression. The brand is part of my heritage. I felt close enough to Sonia Rykiel to design the next pages in her name.”
On her trips to Miles, de Libran often takes the opportunity to check the impressive Sonia Rykiel archival pieces that Bocchese has assembled over the years, comprising around 7,000 units. “There is an archive here we don’t even have in Paris, there is incredible history,” said de Libran. Rykiel would spend a week at a time at Miles, bonding with Bocchese and creating a strong relationship with her.
Miles works with other luxury brands, which Bocchese requested not be named, and creates around 100,000 pieces a year. The company, which employs 130 workers, counts 40 of the best Shima Seiki and Stoll machines, tested and developed for improvements in collaboration with Miles. The range of yarns that it works with makes one’s head spin, ranging from linen and cashmere to silk, mohair, alpaca and yak.
Sonia Rykiel’s daughter Nathalie remains a consultant to the house, which in 2012 sold an 80 percent stake to Fung Brands, an investment company backed by Hong Kong billionaires Victor and William Fung. Now known as First Heritage Brands, the group is also the holding company for Belgian leather goods firm Delvaux and French shoe brand Robert Clergerie. Hurt by a difficulty economy and reduced consumer spending, Sonia Rykiel is repositioning its main line with the introduction of lower price points and in October said it was shuttering its Sonia by Sonia Rykiel diffusion line, with the goal of returning the house to profitability by 2019.