Sonia Rykiel creative director Julie de Libran
Fiery designer Sonia Rykiel revolutionised the fashion world in more ways than one when she first appeared on the Parisian scene in the 1960s. Over the next few decades she would liberate women with her unconventional yet timeless designs including comfortable striped knits and sweaters, culottes and braless dresses. She left behind a huge legacy – one that resonated with women everywhere – but since then the brand has struggled to find a designer that would capture the spirit of its founder while moving it firmly foward.
That was until we attended the brand’s spring/summer 2015 show which was held at Rykiel’s original and iconic boutique on Paris’ left bank. Newly appointed creative director Julie de Libran welcomed guests at the door before unveiling her debut collection for the house.
As soon as the models walked down the runway it was obvious that de Libran was creating a style revolution of her own. While the bohemian, freewheeling spirit of Saint-Germain-des-Prés seemed to hang over the collection, the looks couldn’t be more modern. The house’s icon, the stripe, was reinvented in woven tweed jackets and voluminous skirts, realised as ruffles and fringing, or given a glam look in sequins and lace. Even the signature knits were treated to look like fur or marabou feathers, while denim made its first appearance.
And while there was a definite couture touch in the embellishments and luxe fabrications, the collection was peppered with desirable wardrobe essentials such as the evening dress-cum-jumpsuit, knitted capes, military parkas, leather jogging pants and chic sheer dresses.
Sonia Rykiel, Spring/Summer 2015
“It was about reworking things that were in the spirit of Rykiel but still very me as seen in the fringe on knits and leather skirts. I love this idea of movement so embroidered dresses featured knit backs so they are comfortable. There was an ease to everything, even though the look is very Parisian and polished. I wanted it to be a wardrobe different women could go to and find something desirable,” said de Libran a few days after the show.
This point was brought home by the cast of hip and young models chosen to walk the runway including “it” girls like Lizzy and Georgia May Jagger, Edie Campbell and her sister Olympia as well as Kendall Jenner.
Rykiel has undergone several new designers since its founder retired in 2009, but de Libran boasts an impressive resume featuring stints with famed brands like Versace (where she worked with Gianni himself), Prada and Louis Vuitton. That being said, Rykiel has held a special place in her heart since she was a young girl.
“When I was asked to interview for the role, I just had the goosebumps. Growing up in France, I remember by mother in 1970s always wearing Rykiel, so that’s when I discovered it. I spent a lot of time in her closet!
“I loved her approach of being a woman designing for women, and I liked how she was inspired by the street, her friends, arts and French cinema, which is a huge source of inspiration for me. Getting this role was a huge honour and it also felt right,” she says.
Although de Libran has yet to meet with Madame Rykiel in person, she has become intimately acquainted with her through her various books and biographies. She has also delved thoroughly into the brand’s archives although she tries to distance herself from then when it comes to designing the collections.
“It’s important that I choose the elements [from the archives] through my selective memory. While the past is integral, fashion is about the moment and what women want right now. The woman today is working, has a family and travels. She is active. Rykiel designed for her in the beginning and I am designing for her now,” she says.
In addition to creating the ready-to-wear collections for both the mainline and diffusion label Sonia by Sonia Rykiel, de Libran has also been tasked with designing other categories such as accessories, homewares and even children’s wear. Her handbag collection has already created plenty of buzz thanks to covetable styles such as the Domino, first introduced over a decade ago, which she has remodelled as a clutch, a shopper, and a cross-body bag with a braided chain.
“I am lucky because the house has so much heritage and so many codes, I just have to pick the right ones at the right time. Madame Rykiel has left an incredible legacy so I hope I can do what she did in the 70s for today,” she says.
A version of this article first appeared in the South China Morning Post newspaper.