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

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Life and Style
i100

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Network Infrastructure Technical Lead - up to £45k DOE - Surrey

    £35000 - £45000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Technical Architect - Surrey - £35k-£45k DOE - Permanent

    £35000 - £45000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Year 5 Teacher Plymouth

    £23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teacher...

    Year 6 Teachers needed for supply roles

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week