PARIS — The vibes were clearly more peace and love than discontent on an early spring evening at 175 Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. Half a century after student protests gripped the Left Bank of the French capital, a crowd was drawn to the Sonia Rykiel store to celebrate a new handbag, the Pavé, or cobblestone, meant as a playful nod to an era when angry protesters lobbed the stones at riot police.
That period of rebellion also gave birth to the label, still famous decades later for its striped and colorful knitwear.
“It’s a house that was born 50 years ago in Saint Germain-des-Prés. A house of creation, a women’s house, a house that contributed to its era — it didn’t create its era but was stimulated by it,” said Jean-Marc Loubier, chief executive officer of First Heritage Brands, owner of the company.
“Sonia Rykiel did not throw cobblestones in ’68,” added Loubier, noting that the designer’s approach to reflecting on life, and, as a woman, on the role of women in society, serves as a link. Rykiel, who passed away in August 2016 at 86, was known to recite poems in her first store; the book-lined walls of the Saint Germain flagship are recognizable from even a speeding car on the boulevard.
Looking ahead to the house’s anniversary, Loubier asked his teams to work on the idea of the Pavé handbag a couple of years ago.
“I asked my teams to work on the 50th anniversary, but I call it 50 years of the future, not 50 years of retrospective. We launched the project with the same idea — what I wanted is for it to be a Rykiel year,” he continued.
The golden jubilee kicked off at the Paris store in January with “Manifesto,” an installation by artist Jaro Varga that hit other Rykiel stores in capitals around the world.
For partygoers heading to the Pavé celebration, the store was easy to find, thanks to broad, swirly red, yellow and white stripes that wrapped around the façade of the store. Round windows, also striped in Pop-Art style colors including blue, invited passersby for a peek into a miniaturized display of the house’s history. A tiny knit sweater hung in one, another spelled out “Star — a fixed, luminous point, usually female” with pearly beads. The installation was designed by Juliette Minchin, a 25-year-old student from the Beaux Arts in Paris — another Left Bank establishment, which is also tied to the house as the site of its fashion shows.
“I thought it up as a theater set, I work a lot with immersion, and how to immerse the viewer,” said Minchin, who works on set designs for cinema and theater. She looked to rainbow-infused pieces from the latest Rykiel collection as well as Seventies rainbow-motifs on bedding and wallpaper.
Minchin and Julie de Libran, the house’s designer since 2014, unzipped their Pavé bags to compare contents.
“It’s a bit of a mess — here are a lot of things,” warned Minchin, pointing to her phone, keys and makeup.
“I wanted to create a form that resembles [a cobblestone] but at the same time has real utility because for me, a bag for a woman is very personal,” said de Libran, noting its rectangular, rather than square shape, and showing off the various ways to wear the vanity-case inspired piece, complete with a hidden mirror.
Fitting the gender fluid times, the bag is suitable for both sexes, she added, noting one of her male friends has asked for it in green.
Partygoers mingled around the store, browsing the bookshelves while sipping Champagne and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres. In one corner, guests were invited to roll a pair of red dice with the word “freedom” written in various languages along with the house initials SR. The lucky ones who landed on the brand’s initials were handed a t-shirt packaged in a neat cobblestone square.
Bruno Menager, who once worked for the house, said he remembered buying his first Sonia Rykiel T-shirt in 1977 — lavender-and-black striped.
“There was no collection for men, so I bought a T-shirt for women,” he recalled.
Anja Krause, a Berlin transplant who works at the OECD, plucked a colored cobblestone from a pile in the shop, and decorated it with the words “love, amour and liebe.”