Sonia Rykiel photographed in her Saint Germain atelier in 1976Credit: Derek Hudson/Getty Images

French fashion icon Sonia Rykiel has died at the age of 86 from the effects of Parkinson’s disease, her daughter and successor Nathalie Rykiel revealed overnight.

Known as the “’Queen of Knitwear”’, Rykiel has been honoured by President François Hollande as a pioneer of her craft “who was able to chart her own course”, attributing her with inventing “not just a style but an attitude, a way of living and being, [that] offered a freedom of movement.”

Her spontaneous designs emblematic of Left Bank insouciance, the self-trained Rykiel opened her first ready-to-wear store on Paris’s Left Bank in the volatile climes of 1968 to house the kinds of clothes she wanted to wear, exemplified first and foremost in her ‘poorboy sweater’ – a form fitting, fine ribbed knitted sweater with high arm holes and long sleeves that fast found favour with Françoise Hardy, Catherine Deneuve, Brigitte Bardot, Lauren Bacall and Audrey Hepburn.

Rykiel’s star rose alongside that of prêt-à-porter itself and its pioneers Karl Lagerfeld, Kenzo Takada and Jean-Paul Gaultier, and over the coming decades her oeuvre grew to encompass include menswear, children’s clothing, accessories, perfumes, lingerie, works of fiction, non-fiction and even sex toys. Her vast creative output came to be known as an unbridled expression of sophistication, sexuality, liberation, joy and creativity – the models in her shows always instructed to dance and smile as an embodiment of the designer’s joie de vivre.

After she was diagnosed in 1996, Rykiel kept her condition a secret for many years and began handing over her namesake label’s artistic direction to her daughter and collaborator Nathalie, who remains a consultant and president of the brand today (Julie de Libran is currently the creative director). It was only in 2012 that Rykiel divulged that she was suffering from the disease in her last book, Don’t Forget That I’m Acting, as she could no longer hide the symptoms. After news of her passing broke, many of her colleagues and contemporaries began to pay tribute to the singular designer, who will be remembered as much for her signature coiffure as her love of stripes, sweaters and big time sensuality.   

“I loved Sonia. I will always miss her”
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“Remembering this rule-breaking fashion pioneer, queen of knitwear and one of the first designers I ever had the honor to walk for. Grateful to have known the legendary Sonia Rykiel”
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“Kissing the hand of an angel”
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“Goodnight Sonia”
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“I’ll always remember you… Like the time I couldn’t stop laughing during your show”
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“Farewell to the grand dame of knit”
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“RIP Sonia. A true legend”
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“Dear Sonia Rykiel – I remember so well your carrot red hair, your tiny frame wrapped in wool and the bold attitude about how women should dress smart and sexy in a new modern era. My favourite Sonia Rykiel show was when you were reading your poems as the backdrop to the models showing the new collection in your tiny Left Bank store. May you rest in peace.”
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Jean Paul Gaultier
“All my admiration for the revolutionary work that you gave to women. Thank you for the inspiration and style that you gave to all of us.”
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Tile image: Derek Hudson/Getty Images
Cover image: Gilles BASSIGNAC/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images