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French Designer Sonia Rykiel Passes Away At 86

Photo: Sergio Gaudenti/Sygma/Getty Images.
Fashion has lost another legend: Sonia Rykiel, the French designer best known for her colourful striped sweaters and sparkling knits, passed away today, The New York Times reports. She was 86.

Rykiel hasn't held a designer role at her eponymous label for decades, according to Business of Fashion. Her daughter Natalie took over as artistic director in 1995; Julie de Libran was named the brand's lead designer in 2014, Vogue reported. Still, Rykiel maintained a presence at the fashion house she founded on Paris' Left Bank in 1968. (She took a bow at the brand's SS09 Paris Fashion Week show.)

The Parisian-born creative first gained recognition long before Sonia Rykiel the Brand came to be: One of her 1962 knit styles, which would go on to be dubbed the "poor-boy sweater" by WWD in the 1970s, found its way onto the cover of French Elle (on then-19-year-old Françoise Hardy, no less) in 1963, and from there onto the radar of such stars of Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot, according to The Guardian.

Once Rykiel opened up her own label, the sweater's star power kept growing, eventually becoming one of the defining clothing items of Parisian fashion in the 1970s. Beyond that, the designer's early influence came from her progressive stance on women's dressing. She believed fashion could be liberating, smart, and celebratory — a mission called "rykielism" on the brand's website. Indeed, Rykiel championed a type of sophisticated, sensual, easygoing style that was French at its core, but heaped on the kind of whimsy, imagination, and joy that's largely missing from the blazer-and-skinny-jeans set.

A photo posted by Sonia Rykiel (@soniarykiel) on

Aside from her clear vision, the designer was easily recognisable with her fiery orange hair. And though Rykiel herself favoured an almost exclusively black wardrobe (according to The Times, Rykiel once told an editor: "My colour is black. And black, if it's worn right, is a scandal."), her runways were a kaleidoscope of colour, textures, patterns, and finishes. They were clothes for magpies — magpies who have now lost their queen.