The Legacy of Sonia Rykiel

Apr 10, 2020

The Legacy of Sonia Rykiel

Sonia Rykiel revolutionized womenswear in the 1960s and became well known for her knitwear in fashion circles. But she never quite became a modern household name like other French designers of her generation. After celebrating a historic 50th anniversary of the brand in 2018, a year later it was gone. In the present day over-saturated market, it takes more than a cute story from fifty years ago to succeed.

Sonia Rykiel might have made history with her Poor Boy Sweater and knitwear, but over the decades, the brand lost touch with cultural shifts and was forced into liquidation in July 2019. There were many reasons for the downfall of Sonia Rykiel, but today we would like to take a look at the heritage the brand left behind. Sonia Rykiel’s impact on fashion is still visible to this day as the brand’s influence has made it’s way into all of our wardrobes.

Update: In 2021 the brand returned to Paris Fashion week and there is an ongoing effort to revive the once iconic house.

Sonia Rykiel fitting fashion photography

The Poor Boy Sweater

Sonia Rykiel was best known for her knitwear. So much so, that’s she’s widely known as the “Queen of Knits”. She revolutionized knitwear in fashion. Best known for her Poor Boy sweater – a ribbed pullover with high armholes. First released in 1962, it was tight and figure-fitting. It liberated women from wearing bulky, unflattering sweaters that became a thing of the past. The Poor Boy Sweater gained a lot of popularity, with Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot being just few of the stars that wore Sonia Rykiel’s creations throughout the 1960s. Through the decades, the Poor Boy sweater has remained as a staple piece in wardrobes across the globe.

Audrey Hepburn Sonia Rykiel Poor Boy Sweater
Audrey Hepburn was a fan of the Poor Boy Sweater

Make a statement like Sonia Rykiel

We want to tell stories with our clothes, showing a glimpse of who we are and what we stand for. Sonia Rykiel was one of the first designers ever to put text on a sweater and the first word she used was “sensuous“. Now we are so used to wearing t shirts and sweaters with text and slogans on them. We’ll wear everything from brand names to slogans to declaring to the world that we’re having a bad hair day. No matter what it says- someone out there is probably wearing it. The Sensuous sweater became a best seller and we’ve been making statements with our clothes ever since. In a way, we can thank Sonia Rykiel for that!

Sonia Rykiel Sweater Pre-Fall 2019
The brand is known for high quality knitwear

All Black Everything

I often wear an all black outfit, a few years ago, when I was going through my extreme minimalism phase, I only wore black and had eliminated all other colors from my wardrobe. Eventually, color found it’s way back to me and those days are behind me. But it’s undeniable that wearing an all back outfit gives you a sense of power and confidence that is hard to match. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Sonia Rykiel has been credited with making wearing all black the embodiment of Parisian cool. She’s admitted herself that she didn’t like wasting time choosing colors. “I like to dress very simply – perhaps a black crepe jacket and black crepe trousers,” Sonia has been quoted saying.

Sonia Rykiel Fall Winter 2018 Campaign Photoshoot
Sonia Rykiel Paris Editorial

The Legacy of Sonia Rykiel

The ideas of the revolutionary designer still live on. As well as trends that were pioneered by Sonia Rykiel have become staples in everyone’s wardrobe. Sonia Rykiel passed away in 2016 at the age of 86 and in the summer of 2019 the brand ceased to exist. Perhaps we just arrived at the end of Sonia’s story? Making an impact on fashion forever, her legacy lives on, even if the brand doesn’t. After all, there’s a street in Paris named after her and the impact of the Sonia Rykiel Poor Boy Sweater lives on.

Sonia Rykiel Street in Paris
Allee Sonia Rykiel in Paris, France – street named after the iconic French fashion designer

Sonia Rykiel Return in 2021

We are updating this article as the Sonia Rykiel brand has been resurrected and returned to Paris Fashion Week with a virtual show in February 2021. After a few years of silence the Sonia Rykiel legacy lives on and The Queen of the Knits is back! But the question is, have they brought back the Poor Boy Sweater?

After legendary French label went into receivership back in April 2019, the house was eventually acquired by the Dayan brothers. They are now doing their best to revive the brand and make sure customers in 2022 connect to it. Since returning, new collections heavily feature knitwear, staying true to the Sonia Rykiel brand origins and legacy. The Spring Summer 2022 collection offers laid back knitwear, including dresses, pullovers and cardigans.

Who knows what the future holds for the brand, but one thing is clear, that Sonia Rykiel left a lasting mark on the fashion scene that has left people craving more. As of the time writing this article, the brand is offering ready to wear womenswear, bags, accessories, as well as a kids collection.

Sonya Rykiel Paris Fashion Week Virtual Show
A still from the Rykiel Paris Fashion week 2021 virtual show – their official comeback
Sonya Rykiel Return
Spring Summer 2022 collection

Is Sonya Rykiel a sustainable brand?

Originally this article covered the closure and legacy the brand left behind after over 50 years of operation. However, since they’ve returned, we have to look at the house from a different perspective. A question we’re wondering is if Sonia Rykiel is a sustainable brand? Unfortunately on their website we couldn’t find enough info on their sustainability practices and efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. Garments have their materials clearly listed, but the country they’ve been produced in isn’t always higlighted. We noticed that for a couple of items they proudly show “Made in Italy”, but for most items the country isn’t listed at all. Which makes us think they are not being produced in countries with the most ethical labour and environmental laws. Besides wool and natural materials like cotton, Sonia Rykiel clothing contains a lot of synthetic materials, such as Polyamide.

We also couldn’t find what the brand’s stance on fashion waste and sustainability is. It seems like at some point in time they were making a statement regarding sustainable fashion. However with the recent takeover by the current owners seems like that has disappeared. With the information that’s publicly available, we can’t recommend Sonia Rykiel as a sustainable fashion brand. But if you are interested in sustainable fashion, check out our tips on how to shop sustainably.

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