As she marks her ruby anniversary with a film, retrospective show and new Left Bank flagship and team, the fiercely independent Sonia Rykiel faces a brave new era as stylishly as ever. I talked to Mme. Rykiel for the latest issue of Preen Magazine, now out on newsstands.
As few designing women as there are in fashion, even thinner in supply are the truly independent labels. Just about every brand and its competition these days reports to one of a handful of monolithic corporations, often making for some pretty odd bedfellows.
Not so is Sonia Rykiel, who four decades into a life as exuberant as her signature striped knits, fox chubbies, polka-dotted dresses and red hair, continues to fiercely brandish her status as one of the rare family-owned fashion houses. Daughter Nathalie, who prompted her mother’s foray into fashion when she couldn’t find a sweater suitable for her pregnant figure, is president and artistic director. And granddaughter Lola, 22, was recently made Rykiel’s ambassador in New York, where between studies as a classical dancer, she is helping introduce the clothes so evocative of a Left Bank insouciance, one that celebrates a chic cheekiness, to a new generation of American women.
At 78, Sonia Rykiel is hardly easing up. A May 25 birthday bash for her was timed to inaugurate the newly revamped flagship on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, complete with a ribbon cutting by the mayor of Paris (there are about 60 Sonia Rykiel shops worldwide). A documentary film and literary essay is underway, and a retrospective opens this October in the Louvre. While Sonia and Nathalie shared the runway bow in February with Gabrielle Greiss, 34, their new creative director for the Sonia Rykiel Collection, the founding matriarch continues to come into the studio daily to oversee a brand which now includes accessories, fragrance, lingerie, children’s and menswear. And while Mme. Rykiel is being frequently tapped these days to recollect her memories of that turbulent summer of 1968, when she opened her shop amidst the protests for social revolutions in the streets of Paris and worldwide, it’s plain to see in her philosophy of clothes and life that Sonia Rykiel is as modern as ever.
Rose Apodaca: You are marking 40 years in fashion this year. Among the news timed to the anniversary is an expansion of the flagship boutique on the Boulevard Saint-Germain to a retrospective exhibit of your work at Les Arts Decoratifs' fashion museum in the Louvre this fall. Does it feel odd for someone who constantly looks forward to consider the past in this way?
Sonia Rykiel: It is interesting to see how I have grown and changed along the way. I have created a style and an established business, yet I am still learning and experimenting. It has been a very rewarding journey so far…
RA: Who is the Sonia Rykiel woman?
SK: She is an individual who knows herself, has her own sense of style and remains passionate about the joys indulgences and adventures that life offers.
RA: Besides a joyful Left Bank spirit, your signature decision to reveal seams on the outside of garments, and to print words on them, or the trompe l’oeil prints draw from a sensibility akin to what the Surrealists such as Elsa Schiaparelli were doing in fashion during their time or, later. What compelled you to do this?
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