Sonia Rykiel – knitwear

I mentioned that, in a small way, my striped T shirt jumper had been inspired by Sonia Rykiel who died a couple of months ago. She had been suffering from Parkinsons for many years.

Following my last vintage knitwear designer post on Perry Ellis, I thought I would review the “Queen of Knitwear” no less.

While she couldn’t knit, and although she also designed clothes, Sonia Rykiel was primarily known for her knitwear designs. She had no fashion or knitwear training – she just wanted to wear something that was comfortable, feminine and elegant. She hit the headlines in 1962 with the so-called “Poor Boy Sweater”. Instead of women’s knitwear being just a small man’s jumper – handknitted, shapeless, and worn by people with no sense of style – she got Italian knitwear factories to make up a long sleeved jersey with a much shorter, fitted shape. Maybe it was a reference to the sort of jersey you might see on a young poor boy who had grown out of it. The Italian company struggled with the concept of a lightweight, fine gauge indoor sweater, and apparently they had to make up the samples seven times until Rykiel was happy with the design.

But once Rykiel was happy, so too was everyone else. The jumpers flew out of the shops with Audrey Hepburn apparently buying five at once, in a variety of colours. This iconic Elle cover was rather shocking in its day. Elle magazine, an establishment fashion monthly, departed from its high bourgeois haute couture covers to feature a 19 year old girl – Francois Hardy – in a jersey – a casual, working class look, which challenged accepted norms. Her key idea was that a jersey should be worn next to the skin, and without a bra. But soon the elegant and wearable jerseys were adopted by fashionable French women, including Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, assuring her success. Rykiel also introduced inside-out stitching, frayed hems and visible seaming. Like Chanel before her Rykiel pioneered a radical departure from uptight Paris fashion helping to introduce mini-skirts, tunics, sexy knitwear and relaxed dressing.



If you would like to make up one of Sonia Rykiel’s Vogue patterns sometimes they come up on eBay etc.

7 Responses

  1. Elaine Sabin-Simpson

    Nice one Kate- as usual, interesting, informative, and some very cools pics. I’m in love with that kilted asymmetric skirt, very cute and wearable. The third image in the group of 6 sums up the Rykiel look I remember from Vogue- dramatic, swirly, very chic, and most definitely aimed at the tall and willowy! [All those layers!]

  2. RuthAnn

    Especially enjoy your posts about the history of fashion. I remember as a young child in the ’60s that having a “poor boy” sweater was THE thing to wear. But I had not realized until your post that this was the beginning of knitted, fitted tops. Thanks!

  3. Hélène

    Thank you for this great fashion overview with ravishing pictures. Your article made me realized that the tricot rayé has always been in fashion (whereas the beret has became somewhat pittoresque). The French writer Colette, as well as Gabrielle Chanel, Brigitte Bardot and many others sported this iconic French style before Rykiel gave it a more feminine and shaped form. Of recent memory, Jean Paul Gaultier also made it his signature style.

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