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Sonia Rykiel Dead: Legendary French Fashion Designer Dies at 86

Sonia Rykiel, the French designer famous for her striped garments and cool-girl knits, died on Thursday, August 25, in Paris after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. She was 86 years old. The news was announced by her daughter, Nathalie, who is now the artistic director of her mother’s fashion house.

Rykiel, whose voluminous red bob made her instantly recognizable, began designing almost accidentally, while pregnant with her first child in 1956. “I wanted a maternity dress, but I couldn’t find anything I liked. Everything was abominable. So I made one,” she once told Women’s Wear Daily. “Then I made a pullover. Elle put it on the cover. Then WWD elected me the Queen of Knitwear.” (Watch the video above to see the fashion designer discuss her famed sweaters in a 1993 interview.)

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She launched her first store in Paris in 1968, and by 1969, her breezy, Paris-inspired threads were available in Bloomingdale’s and Henri Bendel in NYC.

From the moment she started her company, Rykiel did her best to keep it in the family. Her daughter began modeling for the house in 1975, then became its managing and artistic director in 1995. After taking on creative director duties the next year, she launched the brand’s first children’s line. Nathalie also introduced shoes and accessories.

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Then, in 2002, the company launched Rykiel Women, a lingerie and erotica shop. While that may have seemed like a bold move for the brand, Nathalie said that it was right in keeping with her mom’s progressive ideals. “It worked out, because my mother strove to liberate women,” she said. “[Forty] years ago, she told them to ditch their bras under her little poor-boy sweaters. She told them to embrace liberty. Now we are being provocative in another way.”

Though 80 percent of the company was sold to Fung Brands in 2012, the Rykiel family still retains a 20 percent stake.

Rykiel is survived by Nathalie, her son, Jean-Philippe, and Nathalie’s three daughters.

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