Julie de Libran brings Sonia Rykiel up to date
Label's new creative chief is modernising the brand - but with an eye on its past
While most fashion brands try to wow us with mind-blowing venues every Paris Fashion Week, Sonia Rykiel went back to its roots by hosting the spring-summer 2015 show at its boutique on Paris' Left Bank.
The area holds a special place in Rykiel's history. It's where its founder Madame Rykiel, otherwise known as the queen of knitwear, started a fashion revolution of her own in the 1970s.
She was inspired by the artists, publishers and intellectuals that took refuge in the nearby Café de Flore and Brasserie Lipp.
But on one October evening, we witnessed the next chapter in the brand's story, when newly appointed creative director Julie de Libran welcomed guests 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.
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.
"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 the 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," says de Libran.
This was brought home by the cast of hip young models chosen to walk the runway. These included "it" girls such as Lizzy and Georgia May Jagger, Edie Campbell and her sister Olympia, and Kendall Jenner.
"I really tried to match them with a look that brought out their individuality and spirit. Are they representative of the Rykiel girls of today? I hope so, but, at the same time, I design for a lot of girls," she says.
Rykiel has had several new designers since its founder retired in 2009. De Libran is the first woman to take on the role since Fung Brands, an investment firm controlled by Hong Kong tycoons Victor and William Fung, acquired 80 per cent of the brand's business.
Her impressive résumé includes stints with famed brands such as Versace (where she worked with Gianni), Prada, and Louis Vuitton under Marc Jacobs, but 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 my mother in 1970s always wearing Rykiel, so that's when I discovered it. I spent a lot of time in her closet," she says.
"I loved that she was 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."
Although de Libran has yet to meet Rykiel in person, she has become 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 them when it comes to designing.
"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 main line and the diffusion label Sonia by Sonia Rykiel, de Libran has also been tasked with designing other categories such as accessories, homeware and children's wear.
Her handbag collection has already created a buzz with covetable styles such as the Domino. Introduced over a decade ago, de Libran has remodelled it as a clutch, a shopper, and a cross-body bag.
"I am lucky, because the house has so much heritage and so many codes. So I just have to pick the right ones at the right time. Rykiel has left an incredible legacy, so I hope I can do today what she did in the 1970s," she says.