PARIS — The Sonia Rykiel show in Paris on Sept. 29 promises to stop traffic, quite literally.
The city has agreed to block circulation on a stretch of Boulevard Raspail on a Saturday night for the open-air show, which is set to kick off with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo unveiling a plaque renaming the central alley of the boulevard after the flame-haired designer, who died in 2014 at the age of 86.
It coincides with the house’s 50th anniversary and is the result of a two-year effort by Nathalie Rykiel, who wanted her mother to have a permanent memorial in the neighborhood that she embodied for legions of women inspired by her charismatic personality and revolutionary designs.
“I absolutely wanted a place in Paris on the Left Bank to bear Sonia’s name. It felt like something important, symbolic, that reflected who she was, and City Hall was extremely supportive of the idea,” Rykiel told WWD. “What’s beautiful is that it ties her name to Paris forever.”
The Allée Sonia Rykiel, which sits between the Rue du Cherche-Midi and the Rue de Rennes, is a stone’s throw from where Rykiel lived and worked. “It was absolutely the ideal spot. On top of that, it’s where they have the organic food market that Sonia adored and that I go to every Sunday,” she remarked.
In parallel, officials this week unveiled a commemorative plaque at 60 Rue des Saints-Pères, the building where Rykiel lived from 1971 to 2016, and where her daughter also has an apartment.
In her lifetime, the woman who WWD dubbed the “Queen of Knits” earned every major French award. She was a Commander of the Legion of Honor, a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, a Grand Officer of the National Order of Merit and the recipient of the Grande Médaille de Vermeil, the highest distinction Paris can offer.
But Rykiel will become the first designer to have a Paris street named in her honor. “There is not one couturier, not one fashion designer, who has an alley, a boulevard or a street in Paris. Not Chanel, not Saint Laurent, not Poiret, not Vionnet,” said her daughter.
Jean-Marc Loubier, chief executive officer of First Heritage Brands, which bought the company in 2012, said creative director Julie de Libran supported the idea of staging the show on the street.
“It shows the capacity of the house, of the brand, to speak powerfully to all generations, types and social categories,” he said. “We won’t be the first house to stage a fashion show in the street, but how many can do that in a street that bears their name?”
Fashionwise, Rykiel was synonymous with stripes, knits, sequins and Twenties-tinged silhouettes, but on a broader cultural level, she came to represent an ever-optimistic liberated, feminist spirit and Rive Gauche attitude. The combination inspired an extremely devoted fan base.
“Of course, she created a style, but it goes beyond that. It’s about what she brought to women,” Rykiel said. In that spirit, the brand will hand out 200 invitations to the show at its flagship on Boulevard Saint-Germain on a first-come, first-served basis.
Guests will be seated under multicolored striped awnings, some of which will be left in place for the stallholders at the following day’s food market. Others will be turned into limited-edition bags, Loubier said.
Rykiel said between France’s antiterror measures, traffic restrictions, Hidalgo’s agenda and the Paris Fashion Week schedule, pulling off the event was even harder than the 40th anniversary show where she convinced designers including Ralph Lauren, Alber Elbaz and Jean Paul Gaultier to design one-of-a-kind tribute outfits.
“For my mother, I love to do the impossible,” she said. “This is even better than the 40th anniversary because with this, Paris is making her immortal.”