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July 28, 2019

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Fashionista world mourns death of French label

THE fashion world is mourning the demise of troubled French fashion label Sonia Rykiel, an iconic symbol of Paris’ rebellious spirit in the 1960s.

A court in the French capital ordered the winding up of the loss-making brand founded by the “Queen of Knits,” once an icon of youthful revolt against the stuffy fashion establishment.

The designer, who died nearly three years ago from Parkinson’s disease aged 86, popularized dressing all in black and made her name with the “Poor Boy Sweater” that film star Audrey Hepburn made a key part of her look.

Despite the boom in luxury French fashion, a buyer could not be found to take on the label since it went into receivership in April.

“It’s like she has died a second time,” said Agnes Trouble, veteran French designer and founder of the Agnes b. brand. “It’s the end of an era. Dior and Saint Laurent are (now) about bling — they no longer have the Parisian elegance they used to have.”

Several of the brand’s 131 workers burst into tears in court when the winding up order was made. Their lawyer Thomas Hollande said the decision would mean them losing their jobs.

Rykiel’s first boutique opened on the Left Bank of the French capital in May 1968 just as students took to the streets outside demanding an end to the old order. She was credited with wearing black from head to toe the epitome of Parisian cool.

“I like to dress very simply — perhaps a black crepe jacket and black crepe trousers,” she said.

Red-haired Rykiel caught the revolutionary spirt of the time with easy to wear clothes that often bore political slogans, and she signed a famous feminist declaration in 1971 that paved the way for abortion legalization in France.

So great was her influence on Paris fashion in the 1970s — when the scene was dominated by the friends-turned-bitter-rivals Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint-Laurent — that she was known as “Coco Rykiel,” a nod to the pioneering female designer Coco Chanel. But last year her brand — half of whose sales were in France — lost 30 million euros (US$33.5 million).

Several investors had expressed interest in taking the house on, including the former chief of the Paris brand Balmain, Emmanuel Diemoz and a Chinese conglomerate, but all came to nothing.

Fashion historian Olivier Saillard said it was “sad to see a great name go and it is even harder to watch it being ruined by some of its shareholders.”

He said that Rykiel’s style had huge influence on the wave of Japanese and Belgian designers who were inspired by her and have become major fashion players since. Saillard said as well as her “raw-cut hems and her deconstructed looks with their inside-out seams, she was a pioneer of the ready-to-wear revolution, and she “democratized fashion.”

Her name, however, lives, on a chic Paris street, which now bears her name. Fittingly, her brand celebrated the honor last September by staging its very last proper Paris fashion week show.


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