On the morning that Simone Veil, the women’s rights champion who led the fight to legalize abortion in France, was interred in the Pantheon mausoleum in Paris, the fashion set gathered less than two miles away to honor a different icon of French feminism: fashion designer Sonia Rykiel.
The woman who WWD dubbed the “Queen of Knits” died two years ago, but her spirit lives on as the house celebrates its 50th anniversary. Julie de Libran, who took over as artistic director in 2014, on Sunday showed on the Paris couture calendar for the first time with a collection she called “L’Atelier Sonia Rykiel.”
The 25 looks were unveiled in the renovated Cour du Mûrier, a former convent nestled within the School of Fine Arts. Guests sat under the courtyard’s arches or in the graveled garden as models swept past in looks that distilled the essence of the Rykiel repertoire.
“I wanted to create an inventory of Rykiel icons,” de Libran said in a preview at the brand’s headquarters on neighboring Boulevard Saint-Germain. She proceeded to reel off its building blocks: the peacoat; the ribbed sweater; tracksuit pants; the striped jersey, and the culotte skirt — to name just a few.
Each one was translated into exceptional pieces that clients will be able to order by appointment over the next few days in a specially appointed space at the flagship.
De Libran tackled the knitwear with a sensual hand. Her sweaters — if you could call them that, such was the variety of styles on offer — were sequined, tufted, fringed or embroidered with ostrich feathers, in the case of a black strap-sleeved cashmere cardigan that swirled around the midriff.
The designer was inspired by something Marylou Luther wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 1967: “Couture is not enough. You need a Rykiel.” And indeed, this was couture for the modern age: an “antiprecious” approach in tune with the demands of real women, embodied by a cast that ran from Georgia May Jagger to Kirsten Owen.
Horizontal bands, recalling the house’s signature rainbow stripes, were worked into everything from a chunky sweater with fringed sleeves to a featherlight black dress with a matching cape.
Many of the jackets were worn on bare skin, like the tweed-textured tabard on Malgosia Bela, or a barely there black laced-trimmed negligee, slung over slim black satin cigarette pants. It screamed of a heady Left Bank nonchalance that money can’t buy — though Rykiel traded on that seductive aura.
“She was a Parisian icon, and a woman that other women aspired to be like, for her freedom, her allure and the way that she played with clothes,” said de Libran, noting that she used to see Rykiel around Saint-Germain, where she mingled with artists and writers.
Veil and Rykiel were from the same generation: one fought for women’s right to choose, the other showed them how to enjoy that freedom. No doubt Rykiel would have liked how her successor is honoring that legacy.