Sonia Rykiel

Sonia Rykiel was a French fashion designer and writer


Sonia Rykiel was dubbed the “Queen of Knits”. The Sonia Rykiel label was founded in 1968 upon the opening of her first store, making clothing, accessories and fragrances. Rykiel was also a writer and her first book was published in 1979.


Early Years

Based in France, Sonia was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris  on 25 May 1930 . Her mother was from Russia, and her father was a watchmaker from Romania.She lived in Paris along with her family and took care of her four younger sisters. In 1948, at the age of 17, she was employed to dress the window displays in a Parisian textile store, the Grande Maison de Blanc.

Fashion Career

While pregnant in 1962, Rykiel had problems finding soft sweaters to wear. She used a Venice clothing supplier to design and create a dress and a sweater, which incorporated high cut arm holes and a shrunken fit to cling to the body. With her sweater returning seven times for alterations she started to experiment with seams, hems and linings.Her first sweater, called the Poor Boy Sweater, was sold in her husband’s shop.

Rykiel often wore her clothes from her own label and stuck to wearing dark green, brown, navy, and black garments. Rykiel was also known for her distinctive hairstyle – red hair cut into a bob with a heavy fringe.

Personal Life

After meeting her husband Sam Rykiel, the owner of boutique ‘Laura’ specialising in elegant clothing, she married him in 1953.The couple had two children, Nathalie and Jean-Philippe Rykiel. They divorced in 1968.


In 2012, she revealed that she had been suffering from Parkinson’s for fifteen years. Rykiel died at her home in Paris during the morning of 25 August 2016, aged 86. Her death was caused by complications from the disease.


Rykiel’s husband helped her to create the Sonia Rykiel Company in 1965. She started selling the sweaters from through Laura, Sam’s label and the Poor Boy Sweater made the cover of French Elle magazine, bringing her fame. Actress Audrey Hepburn bought 14 sweaters in every colour. The Americans crowned her ‘Queen of the Knits’ in 1967.

In 1968, Rykiel opened her first boutique store,specializing in knitwear, on the Left Bank. Since then, she had continuously experimented in order to expand her fashion offers. Rykiel invented various fashion techniques. She was the first designer to put seams on the outside of a garment, leave hems unfinished and use slogans on her sweaters. In 1977, she became the first designer to create a line of clothes for mail order firm 3 Suisses.The following year,like most designers she also created a line of perfumes and the first one was named 7e Sens. Rykiel contributed to the interior decoration for the Hôtel de Crillon and the Hôtel Lutetia.

In 1980, she was voted as being one of the ten most elegant females in the world. Her designs and vision about knitwear led her to costumes for the French musical comedy Les Dix Commandements. In 1995 she collaborated with Malcolm McLaren on the song ‘Who the Hell is Sonia Rykiel?’ In 1998 she celebrated 30 years in fashion with a show encapsulating her successful style. At the same time she received a tribute in French Vogue.

In February 2005 Rykiel launched an in-store shop for the Sonia Rykiel Woman line in New York along with the other three boutiques in the U.S.Having been honoured by the French Ministry of Culture, Rykiel was the first designer to put seams on the outside of a garment and put print words on her sweaters.Nathalie Rykiel was appointed president of Sonia Rykiel in 2007. Nathalie started off as a model and then associated herself with the label.

In October 2008, at a fashion show celebrating the brand’s 40th anniversary, tributes were paid to Rykiel. Thirty fashion designers, including Ralph Lauren, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Giorgio Armani, showcased their visions of the “Rykiel woman”. The brand and its designs were also the subject of an exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris from 20 November 2008 to 20 April 2009. The Sonia Rykiel Exhibition was curated by Olivier Saillard.In 2009, Sonia Rykiel collaborated with H&M to launch an underwear collection, Sonia Rykiel pour H&M. In order to celebrate the partnership an event was held at Grand Palais in Paris.

From January 2012, Sonia Rykiel became majority-owned by the Hong Kong-based First Heritage Brands, part of the investment company Fung Brands. Fung Brands acquired 80 percent of Sonia Rykiel, with the Rykiel family retaining a 20 percent stake. That same year, Canadian designer Geraldo da Conceicao succeeded April Crichton as the artistic director of Rykiel. Julie de Libran took over the role during the following year. A street of Paris was named after Sonia Rykiel in October 2018.In 2019, the Sonia Rykiel brand liquidated its operations, after a Paris commercial court judge rejected Lévy, the only remaining bidder for the company.

Notable Accolades

  • Oscar from Fashion Group International of New York (1986)
  • Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1993)
  • Award for Design Excellence from the Chicago Historical Society’s Costume Committee (1994).
  • Officer of l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur (1996)
  • Trophée Whirlpool des Femmes in Gold entrepreneurial award (1997)
  • Commander of the National Order of Merit (2001)
  • Woman of the Year from the Association des Amis du Musée de Tel-Aviv (2002)
  • Promoted to Commander of l’ordre national de la Légion d’Honneur (2008)
  • Grande Médaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris
  • Promoted to Commander of l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her contribution to arts and literature (2012)
  • Promoted to Grand Officer of the National Order of Merit (2013)