Reigning queen of knitwear, Sonia Rykiel, has made a long and successful career out of doing things her way. From itsy-bitsy schoolboy style sweaters to flipped seams and non-existent hems, she popularised a quirky, care-free style representative of her personality and way of life. From her Paris studio, Madame Rykiel chatted to Lula about tom-boy tendencies, carrot-tops and fetish objects. Indigo Clarke
Lula: What was your childhood like Sonia?
Sonia: I was born in Paris, my childhood was very simple and very nice. My
parents were very in love with us five girls… I was the eldest and had four little sisters. My father was the only male in the family, so sometimes he was just astonished by us five girls. I was absolutely fascinated by my little sisters, I adored them. They were all so nice, so beautiful, so absolutely fantastic. I was horrible looking when I was young because I had red hair and freckles – I was absolutely red like a carrot…
Lula: Like Anne of Green Gables…
Sonia: Yes exactly… just like that, like a carrot. My mother always said to me, "Why do you have red hair, why!?" After that I was always fascinated with my red hair because it's not common at all in France, and no-one else in my family had colour like that at all… all my sisters had pretty fair hair.
Lula: What did you like to play when you were little?
Sonia: I was not interested in playing with dolls at all, I played
with my sisters and cut their hair – they were like my own little
dolls. I wasn't interested in fashion at all, I really hated clothing,
I just wanted t wear things that I could run around and play outside
in. I was like a boy, I liked climbing trees and playing in the
garden... my mother was always saying she didn't know what to do with
Lula: Did you have a favourite toy or object that you'd take
everywhere with you?
Sonia: I always had fetish objects all my life, I love to have objects
around me – to have things everywhere to look at and touch. Now my
favourite things are my two little silver timble cups that have my
children's names engraved on them, I got them when they were born. I
love objects, I love porcelain, I love books, paintings – all these
things I have are my favourite – I couldn't choose just one. When I
was young, my favourite things were cherries… I just used to eat them
all the time. I would eat so many cherries that I would be completely
ill, but I would not stop eating them.
Lula: What did you dream of being when you grew up?
Sonia: I was thinking I would be a writer or an artist, maybe an
actress who plays in the theatre. I've been writing since I was a
little girl – and I still love to write. I would write little dramas
or comedies or stories about me. I was a very violent girl – I was
really like a boy – so I would write about my life, about how I would
always fight with my mother because she didn't know what to do with
me. My sisters were all girly and fantastic though, and made my mother
very happy. Each birthday my father always hoped he could have one
boy… but I loved having four sisters, they were wonderful.
Lula: When you were a teenager did you start to embrace girlyness?
Sonia: No, I hated to be dressed - even more to be dressed in a girly
style, je'deteste! Whatever I wore I just wanted it to be comfortable
so I could climb trees, my mother would say, "what can I do… how will
you ever be a woman?" I would wear knitwear my mother made most of the
time through my teens. I only started making clothing when I was 31, I
got married and had my children Natalie and Jean-Philipe first. I made
a sweater in the 60s because I couldn't find any I liked – a small,
fitted, schoolboy style sweater – somehow it made the cover of Vogue.
After that I became the queen of knitwear around the world. I didn't
understand why people liked that sweater so much, I just made it
because I felt clothing was always too big for me and I wanted to make
clothing that fit me well. Once I did some knitwear I started making
dresses, some maternity dresses also.
Lula: Why did you start doing away with hems and exposing seams on your dresses?
Sonia: Because I knew nothing of fashion when I started in this
industry, I designed clothing in my own way… that's why I started
putting stitches inside out and upside down, and stopped doing hems.
When people questioned how I made clothes I said, "This is my way." It
was not the right way to make fashion, but I was experimenting and
doing things the way I thought was interesting and nice. I liked to
make dresses without hems, to put words and phrases on my sweaters
like 'champion', and 'black is beauty'. I got into fashion by pure
chance – it was because my husband was involved with fashion that I
had the opportunity to do something in this area. If I had married an
architect, I would have done architecture.
Lula: Did you ever experiment with making music?
Sonia: I did make a lot of music when I was about eight years old. I
was crazy about music, but I wasn't very good at it. As I got older I
absolutely loved Jazz, rock and classical music. I was very interested
in what happened in San Fransisco – the hippy movement. The music of
the hippy's was amazing… I loved that they would play without notes,
on the floor with children, it was a whole lifestyle around famly,
peace and music. I was really inspired by this movement – I was
interested in their way of life though, not the way they dressed.
Lula: How did having children affect your creativity?
Sonia: It had a very positive affect on my creativity, my children
didn't prevent me from doing anything. I always wanted to be with
them, near them, it was very important for me to have children… in my
dreams I wanted to have ten.
Lula: When did your daughter Natalie start working with you?
Sona: She was studying many things at university, and then came to me
because she knew what I was doing and was interested by it. Natalie
started modelling in my fashion shows when she was about 20… after
that she started looking into dfferent parts of my company and where
she could fit in best. She launched the children's line and Sonia by
Sonia Rykiel, she also launched the Rykiel Woman boutiques in Paris,
London and Moscow.
Lula: And what has it been like to work so closely with her – has it been
Challenging, surprising, rewarding?
Sonia: It's been fantastic to work together because we understand each
other completely. It's wonderful because ever since she was a child
she's been a part of my work, she has grown up in it, she has inspired
it and has been inspired by it. She grew up in a mixture of
literature, fashion and art… I always needed books, music and
fantastic objects around me to inspire me to make my dresses, I need
to be inspired by my environment. Every day I put into my dresses all
I've received from the world.
Lula: It must feel such an accomplishment to be the only
privately-owned fashion house owned and directed by a mother and
daughter – to have held onto creative and commercial control after so
Sonia: Yes I am very proud and very, very happy. It is a challenge now
because it is more difficult – there are a lot of big groups with a
lot of money and it's very hard to be independent today.
Lula: What kind of woman are you making clothing for?
Sonia: My clothing is for women who love life, who are alive. They are
intellectual and quirky, and like the irony of fashion.
Lula: And you are still writing books?
Sonia: Yes I'm always writing, I love it. I often write about life,
about being a woman. I try to talk about beauty, luxury, tenderness,
desire – about the need for man and woman to be together and to be
with children, to have this way of life. I've had 11 or 12 books
published, they're sold all over the world and have been translated
into many languages.
Lula: When you're not writing or designing – what do you most like to do?
Sonia: I can't separate my work life and my life as a woman – it is
all one and the same. I love to go to exhibitions, to read, play cards
with friends, go to the beach, buy white peaches, cherries and eat
Lula: Of any Sonia Rykiel piece, what would you choose to dress Lula
Guest Editor Kirsten Dunst in?
Sonia: We dressed Kirsten already for the Spiderman 3 premiere. I
couldn't pick one thing for her to wear, I would dress her in any of
the garments in the latest collection because she would be nice in all
Lula: What is your favourite Kirsten flick?
Sonia: My favourite is Marie Antoinette because in real life Marie
Antoinette was probably a lot like Kirsten's character in the film.
The film was absolutely brilliant, I thought it was very beautiful.