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fall/winter 2009/10

Paris Insight by Karin Sawetz

"Woman must define her style and undefine her roles" Sonia Rykiel

I have to confess that I prefer to find fashion where others won't expect it. Such as it happened in Paris, in the rue Jacob.

(Street view rue Jacob, Paris)

Everything in Paris has style; even female cultural initiatives. I was on my way to the hotel in the next street, rue Saint-Benoît or to the Cafe de Flore - I can't remember, when I came along the brown wooden door which leads me into a modern, romantic garden of an apartment house in the Quartier Latin/Saint Germain, the cultural quarter nearby Sorbonne. (The name Quartier Latin comes from the old language Latin which was used in the Middle Ages in the sciences). The garden has the aura of Venecian palazzi secrets; it was just as stepping into a parallel world where time has another rhythm...; fact is, the house inside has another architectural style than on the street view. The late 19th, early 20th century walls host at the end of the courtyard a glass construction that allows a bright view inside. Is it a gallery, conference center, working place or library? The door is open.

I was very interested and began a conversation with one woman from the office. The 'Movement for the Liberation of Women in France' was founded in 1968. The publishing house 'Des Femmes' released the first editions in 1973. The library is a historical milestone in women history: it was the first library for women's literature written by women, for women or about women in France, and probably in Europe.

After the woman has explained the agenda of 'Des Femmes', she asked me about my profession. As a Viennese, I am familiar to excuse my work on fashion from various views with the methods of different disciplines. So I started my common excuse note. But she heard 'fashion' and brought immediately some books; one was written by Sonia Rykiel.

"Woman must define her style and undefine her roles," states the French designer Sonia Rykiel in her book 'Celebration' from 1988, published by 'Des Femmes' in Paris. In 1968, Sonia Rykiel has founded her label and was soon known as the "Queen of Knits". Rykiel brought the sweater into Couture! As a cult designer, she has impressed artists like Malcolm McLaren for the song "Who the Hell is Sonia Rykiel?" on McLaren's album Paris (1995, or Christian Lacroix for the signature hair styling of his models on the runway For winter 2009 and spring 2010, H&M collaborates with the label Sonia Rykiel, now directed by the daugther Nathalie Rykiel. The first designer lingerie and accessories collection for women will be launched on 5 December 2009 in 1,500 H&M stores worldwide. At the same time, Sonia Rykiel will make this lingerie collection available in Sonia Rykiel’s major boutiques around the world; this crossover of distribution is a premier for H&M. In February 2010, H&M features the second Sonia Rykiel knitwear collection for women and girls accompanied by accessories.

"It is a hallmark of Sonia Rykiel to think of all women because fashion is about a certain spirit more than a question of means. This collaboration fits perfectly with our philosophy. The Sonia Rykiel pour H&M lingerie collection is the ideal way to offer the essence of Rykiel to a great number of women around the world," says Nathalie Rykiel, president and artistic director of Sonia Rykiel.

But back to the book which I have got from the woman of 'Des Femmes'.

In 'Celebration', Sonia Rykiel is celebrating the createur, les femmes, le luxe, et la liberation. Rykiel writes in a style of surrealistic automatism about her love for fashion, design, colors and perfumes (which she compares with colors) that it makes you think you are reading a mad love story in best André Breton's 'L'Amour fou'-tradition. She creates sceneries where she lets her 'paper woman' play in unpredictable stories:

"Twenty years ago, I invented an image, a paper woman written in the folds of the fabric, the knitted threads, the colors of the flesh... She ran away and I caught her again; I left and she came back to me. A novel is a novel only by comparison with another novel. A gown is a gown in comparison with another gown."

In 'Celebration', Sonia Rykiel defines luxury with the freedom to be individual: "Luxury, luxury, luxury. Luxurious to the end, a woman must commit herself, luxury is an art, an emotion, to outrun the crowd, the touch of luxury which creates woman."

What's the message of this heartful book about fashion, design, perfume and women? That it's the freedom of women to break away from the once 'created' and because of traditions over the times 'instituted' roles.

"Woman is institution, and what's good about institution is to be able to break away from it." ends Sonia Rykiel's fashion-'Celebration'.

After this afternoon in the rue Jacob in Paris, I understand the uncommon performance of the women on Sonia Rykiel's catwalk FW 2009/10 much better: the models are beautiful, can walk on the runway perfectly - and they are introducing themselves with names, make jokes, speak about preferences, what they like and what not, describe the outfits and inform the fashion show guests where they come from and where they will go. These women have a plan!

Video: Sonia Rykiel fall/winter 2009/10. Catwalk presentation in Saint Germain, Paris.

Karin Sawetz is journalist, media researcher and fashion scientist (Mag. Dr. phil.). >

Source: Original article with street view and video on


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