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Queen of Knitwear Sonia Rykiel dies, aged 86

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Sonia Rykiel with her daugther Nathalie Rykiel at the Printemps/Eté fashion show in 2008 DR

Fashion designer Sonia Rykiel, known as the "Queen of Knits", has died from Parkinson's disease in Paris at the age of 86, her daughter, Nathalie, announced on Thursday. French President François Hollande hailed her as a "free woman, a pioneer who was able to chart her own course".


"My mother died last night at home in Paris at five in the morning from Parkinson's disease," Nathalie Rykiel announced on Thursday morning.

In 2012 Rykiel revealed she had been suffering from Parkinson's for 15 years.

Calling her the "quintessence of the French woman and the spirit of the left bank", Le

Monde newspaper paid tribute to her designs "of sexy and nonchalant elegance, spiced up with humour".

Immigrant parents

She was born Sonia Flis, the eldest of five daughters, to a Romanian watchmaker father and a Russian mother in Neuilly, near Paris, in 1930.She started her career dressing windows in the Paris shop La Grande Maison de Blanc and six years later married Sam Rykiel, who owned a clothes shop called Laura.

They had two children, Nathalie and Jean-Philippe.

Cover of Elle

In 1962 she designed her own pullovers and commissioned one of her husband's suppliers in Venice to make them, going on to design her own maternity dresses and a small jumper, known as the Poor Boy Sweater.

That hit the cover of Elle magazine when a journalist friend took it up and she was soon a champion of new-look knitwear, despite the fact that she could not actually knit.

On a vest to Paris film star Audrey Hepburn bought 14 Poor Boys in various colours and in 1970 US magazine Women's Wear Daily dubbed her the "Queen of Knits".

Sam helped her set up her eponymous company in 1965 and, despite the fact that they had divorced, a brand and a shop on Paris's left bank in 1968.

Seams on the outside

She became the first designer to put seams on the outsides of garments and to print words on jumpers and created a range of scents.

She also appeared as herself in American director Robert Altman's Prêt-à-porter and decorated the interiors of Paris's Crillon and Lutetia hotels in 1972 and 1985 respectively.

Although she handed over the running of her brand to Nathalie as she grew older, Sonia Rykiel continued to attend Paris fashion shows into her 80s.