Sonia Rykiel Muses Throughout History

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President François Hollande of France once called fashion designer Sonia Rykiel “a pioneer,” and in the spirit of her time, Rykiel was exactly that. Born Sonia Flis on May 25, 1930, she spent her childhood as the black sheep of five sisters, doing the opposite of what her family wanted. As if foreshadowing her career, she was the only person in her family born with that signature fiery red hair, which her mother tried to dye.

At age 17, Rykiel was employed to dress window displays at Parisian textile store Grande Maison de Blanc, where she first became introduced into the fashion world. It was after having children that she realized she couldn’t find what she liked in her own wardrobe and decided to design clothing herself. “I wanted to dress women who wanted to look at themselves. To stand out. To be women who were not part of the crowd. A woman who fights and advances,” she once said.

Rykiel’s mantra was to always have fun with fashion. She created pieces that reflected a new philosophy, known as la demode, (or “unfashion”) using luxe materials in playful, undone ways. She became known for her knit pieces, earning her the nickname “the Queen of Knits.” Rykiel passed away in August 2016, leaving behind an empire of homeware, childrenswear, and more. On what would have been her 87th birthday today, CR looks back at the people and places who inspired Rykiel, and how she, in turn, inspired them.

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