French fancy: Sonia Rykiel

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Sonia Rykiel is known as the queen of knits – and now she's brought her quirky Gallic style to the high street with a new collection for H&M. Très jolie, says Carola Long

As if Sonia Rykiel's bright, witty jumpers weren't uplifting enough, the French designer has come up with another reason to be cheerful. Thanks to her collabor- ation with H&M, we can all get our mitts on her knits for around a fifth of the price of her diffusion line, Sonia by Sonia Rykiel.

The collection focuses on knitted pieces in pink, black and yellow, and includes rhinestone-adorned jumpers, blazers, trapeze and tube dresses, leggings and dungarees. There are also accessories, such as patent belts and kitsch plastic bangles, as well as – quelle surprise – jaunty Parisian berets and childrenswear.

It's her first clothing collection for H&M following the lingerie range she designed for the chain last year, and handily bridges the gap between a winter wardrobe and shivering in new season buys.

However, not only are these instantly gratifying cheap-chic buys, they are also timeless. When I interviewed the flame-haired designer, who is now 79, at her St Germain apartment at the end of 2008, she said, "The clothes I made in 1968 can still be mixed with the clothes of today." Her designs don't change wildly with the seasons or follow trends, and her signature style is a playful mix of girlish and garçonne, served with lashings of Left Bank quirkiness and a colour palette of purples, reds, hot and pale pinks, yellow and of course, black. Rykiel's collections often feature tailored or harem trousers paired with sexy Seventies blouses, loose tunics or trapeze dresses, and, of course, knits decorated with anything from stripes to cherries, whorled corsages, rhinestones, slogans and trompe l'oeil designs. When Rykiel was described as one of the 10 most sensuous women in the world, she responded by putting her first word on a jumper; "sensuous". The influence of Sonia Rykiel's sweaters is all over the high street, which is currently in thrall to all things sweet and Parisian. Think Eiffel Tower designs and slogans such as "What's not to love?" – which appears on a cute, oversized sweater in Oasis. The most literal? A stripey Topshop jumper saying simply "Paris".

The appeal of Rykiel's clothes is that they are imaginative, sexy and fun – qualities that are reflected in the smiley demeanour of the models on her catwalks. She told me that she even encourages her models to look cheerful, by saying, "Smile, look happy, pick a man in the audience and look at him like this [ cue coquettish look]. You can have a conversation with your eyes." The eldest of five daughters in a Russian Jewish family, born just outside Paris, Rykiel was dubbed the "Queen of Knits" by Women's Wear Daily in 1968. She married a boutique owner in 1960, but after separating from him a few years later began designing maternity clothes and fitted sweaters, one of which appeared on the cover of Elle magazine. In May 1968, in the midst of the student riots, she opened a shop on the rue de Grenelle in Paris. "I opened it in the morning and closed it in the evening," she said. "It was close to the Sorbonne and there were students demonstrating everywhere. Then I opened it again two months later." The atmosphere on the Left Bank was "fun, mysterious, interesting, happy. There was something in the air. Paris was a melting pot. It felt like San Francisco had come to the Left Bank." Rykiel's boutique offered a fresh alternative to many of the more rigid designs of the time, and in the early Seventies she pioneered clothes with exposed seams, and no hems or linings.

Rykiel, who has posed for Andy Warhol and provided the inspiration for one of the characters in Robert Altman's film Prêt-à-Porter, has never stuck to fashion. Often referred to as a thinking woman's designer, Rykiel has published several books, including a novel called The Red Lips and a collection of fairy tales, and released a record with Malcolm McLaren in 1994. She has a dreamy, imaginative side. For her, knits are an artist's statement; a very French one. "They represent true freedom," she says. " A knit wraps and attaches. Every day it wraps its sleeves around my neck and we vow to each other eternal love! I love the idea of this game and this passion, hand-in-hand with H&M."

Rykiel has kept her business in the family and her daughter Natalie is president and artistic director. It was Natalie who organised the 40th anniversary show in October 2008, which ended with 30 models wearing Rykiel-inspired looks by renowned designers. Martin Margiela created a dress made of frizzy orange fur while a red-haired model sported a jumper dress with giant knitting needles by Jean Paul Gaultier. Natalie Rykiel says of the H&M range, "I wanted to get to the heart of the brand by offering a joyful 100 per cent knitwear collection." Fashion doesn't get much more feel-good than this.

Sonia Rykiel pour H&M Launches on 20 February

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

    Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss