Nathalie Rykiel

PARIS — Nathalie Rykiel has a statue of Sigmund Freud on her desk. But that doesn’t mean the creative director of her family-owned fashion firm has a complex about working in the shadow of her iconic mother, Sonia Rykiel. <BR><BR>In fact,...

PARIS — Nathalie Rykiel has a statue of Sigmund Freud on her desk. But that doesn’t mean the creative director of her family-owned fashion firm has a complex about working in the shadow of her iconic mother, Sonia Rykiel.

In fact, over the last few years she has confidently guided the fashion house into new territory, beefing it up with children’s wear, a diffusion line and more accessories. The privately owned company reached 85 million euros in consolidated turnover last year, or $110.5 million at current exchange.

Now Rykiel wants to build buzz in the United States. “Our image in the U.S. isn’t what it used to be,” Rykiel confessed in an interview. “In the 1970s, my mother was very big there.”

Rykiel hopes a step in that direction will come when she helps christen an in-store shop for the two-year-old “Woman” line at Henri Bendel today.

Bendel will also introduce Rykiel’s nascent lingerie line, which the designer said has sold out since it was introduced in Paris in December, as well as the Woman scent.

The Woman collection has been a hit in Europe, as much for its cashmere sweaters, pashmina dressing gowns and negligees, as for the sex toys that Rykiel sells as part of the concept.

“Woman took us back to our roots,” reasoned Rykiel. “It works because my mother strove to liberate women. Thirty years ago she told them to ditch their bras under her little ‘poor boy’ sweaters. She told them to embrace liberty. Now we’re being provocative in another way.”

However, Rykiel said it was “important for us to do [sex] with humor and mystery. The concept for Woman was feminine pleasure in the largest sense possible. We brought glamour to the sex toys by putting them in a different context. You didn’t have to buy it in a seedy sex shop. We sell them in a beautiful satin bag. We sell them next to cashmere tops.”

Since its first shop in Paris two years ago, Woman has expanded with stores in London and Moscow.

“It’s working great so far,” said Rykiel. “But we think it should remain relatively selective and small. It’s about luxury.” 

This story first appeared in the February 2, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Though Rykiel said the bedroom gadgets were selling briskly, she emphasized the line’s main focus is clothes, which she described as less fashion-oriented than the signature fashion line.

“It’s a very personal approach to luxury,” she said. “It’s about pieces that we think a woman needs. It’s about pampering yourself. You can find a beautiful dressing gown or a wonderful sweater at Woman. It’s about luxury on a very personal level.”

But equally important, Woman fits a wider strategy to boost the image of the brand.

“I think we’re at the point in the U.S. that we were in Europe a few years ago,” continued Rykiel. “Girls in France a few years ago thought of the brand as for their mothers. But then we introduced the ‘modern vintage’ collection of reeditions and got the accessories rolling. Suddenly younger girls in Europe were wearing Rykiel again. We’d come full circle. That’s what we want to be in the U.S.”