Sonia Rykiel by Claire Humphery-Smith


Rykiel’s undercover talent enabled her to unexpectedly hit it big in the world of fashion thanks to her fabulously feminine pullover and her iconic striped design. The feisty red head had made her story through the irony of her situation, she was a passionate of writing and literature and felt that fashion was too unoriginal a field to dive into. This fascinatingly inspirational woman wows the fashionistas with her story since it revolves around her search for uniqueness and detachment from the rest of the fashion scene; a piece of clothing that could evoke beauty as well as intelligence. Since her husband had opened a prêt-à-porter store in the 14eme arrondissement of Paris with not a single thing that enticed her inside, she initiated the start of her creative journey. It is so fascinating that one piece of clothing or one particularly delicate design has the power to iconify a designer for decades to come. Sonia Rykiel embarked on her fashion-fuelled journey with the iconic design aspiration to be different. While she first began by designing personalized pregnancy dresses for herself, she further continued onto the design of her infamous little pullover. The story of the iconic pullover starts with an Italian representative who comes to Sonia Rykiel’s husband’s store to show him their selection of pullovers, after having rejected the showcased designs, Rykiel asked the Italian representative if they would be able to produce a pullover especially for her, and of course her request was fulfilled, although not to her heart’s content… When the custom-made pullover arrived in the hands of Sonia Rykiel she was not at all pleased with the fit of the pullover, and therefore made an impressive seven alterations to the original one hand-made in Venice. This new and improved – to the liking of Sonia Rykiel – embodied a new approach to female fashion which seems to be part of the causality for its fame, with its colourful and fluid form.  As the interest in Rykiel’s little pullover grew, so did its accumulation of interesting responses, for instance, Nina Dausset was recounted asking whether it wasn’t a children’s pullover, due to the jumper’s novel approach to the female form this amazing little jumper defied its current time; the 1960s was composed of heavy stitching which solely weighed the pullovers down, creating pullovers that were more in the direction of unflatteringly masculine. After the ever growing popularization of her little pullover, Rykiel’s next project became the foundation to her striped empire. With the design in mind, the only thing that this exciting design was missing was some advertisement to get the word out, and where else than in the popular ELLE magazine as well as on the known Francoise Hardy. This particular December 1963 issue created buzz regarding Rykiel’s design, and further lead to the purchases of the pullovers from young ladies such as Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot or Sylvie Vartan; these women were enthralled by the freshness of Rykiel’s designs, and so started a new wave of modern and feminine fashion.


Figure 1 – ELLE front cover featuring Sonia Rykiel’s iconic jumper worn by Francoise Hardy. December 1963


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