French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel dies at the age of 86

Sonia Rykiel le 3 juin 2010 à Paris
Francois Guillot (AFP)
Sonia Rykiel was born in Paris in 1930, the eldest of five daughters of a Russian Jewish immigrant family.

French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel died at the age of 86, her family announced on Thursday morning.

"My mother died at 5:00 this morning at her home in Paris from the effects of Parkinson's," Nathalie Rykiel told the AFP news agency.

Sonia Rykiel was born in Paris in 1930, the eldest of five daughters of a Russian Jewish immigrant family. She was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the age of 66 but kept the illness from her family and friends until it became physically obvious.

The pioneering Rykiel was a fixture in the industry for half a century, launching her own fashion house in 1968 buoyed by the Swinging Sixties craze in London.

She had made her breakthrough in 1962 with the so-called Poor Boy Sweater, a garment designed for women that had long sleeves and a shorter, fitted shape.

The "Poor Boy" met resistance at first partly because of its bulky stitches.

But all that changed in December 1963 when Elle magazine featured the 19-year-old French pop idol Francois Hardy on its front cover in a stripey red-and-pink Rykiel number.

There was a sensation -- Brigitte Bardot and fellow singer Sylvie Vartan were photographed in Rykiel sweaters and Andrey Hepburn herself went to the shop and snapped up five of them.

Over the decades, she branched out into other branches of fashion, but always remained true to knitwear.

Rykiel was born in the upmarket Paris suburb of Neuilly in 1930 as the eldest of five daughters to a Romanian watchmaker father and a Russian mother.

In 1954, she married a clothing store owner, Sam Rykiel, with whom she had two children and whom she later divorced. 

Within the French fashion industry, Rykiel will be remembered as an original who helped cement Paris and, in particular, the Left Bank, as the capital of couture. 

In 2009, 30 of the world's top designers paid tribute to the flame-haired "Queen of Knitwear" with a birthday surprise, offering their own take on the Sonia Rykiel look.

(Staff with AFP)


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