Sonia Rykiel Dies at 86

The rebellious French designer leaves behind one of fashion's most beloved brands.
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Sonia and Nathalie Rykiel in 2009. Photo: Michel Dufour/WireImage

Sonia and Nathalie Rykiel in 2009. Photo: Michel Dufour/WireImage

French fashion lost one of its most iconic and, frankly, coolest designers on Thursday. Sonia Rykiel's death — said to be the result of complications from Parkinson's disease — was confirmed by the Élysée Palace, as well as her daughter Nathalie, to the New York Times.

Rykiel was one of few female designers creating clothing for women in the 1960's when she launched her line of practical, flattering knitwear known as "poor-boy" sweaters, which soon grew to encompass a full ready-to-wear collection. 

''We are working women,'' she told the Times in a 1987 interview, explaining for whom she designs. ''Also we have the problem of children, of men, to take care of our houses, so many things. I try to explain that in my clothes. They are clothes for everyday life. That is the real life of woman. I have the impression that the women around me are like me - smaller, taller, fatter, thinner - but in fact we are all the same.''

She became known for breaking rules with her collections — eschewing current trends, putting words on garments, exposing seams, repeating the same motifs (like stripes) — and that sense of rebellion and joie de vivre has remained engrained in the brand as it grew to encompass new categories and as Rykiel pulled away from it. She retired in 2009, with her daughter Nathalie at the creative helm. In 2012, Fung Brands Ltd. acquired 80 percent of the company, which left the founding family with 20 percent.

Rykiel, also a writer, first revealed she was suffering from Parkinson's disease in 2012, in the book "N'Oubliez Pas Que Je Joue," or "Don’t Forget It's a Game," which she co-authored with Judith Perrignon.

Now, under the artistic direction of Julie de Libran, Sonia Rykiel collections continue to garner praise for their quirky, quintessentially French femininity and subtle sex appeal. They've stayed true to the brand's DNA, and continue to stand out against Paris's more fantasy-driven and somber-feeling brands.

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