Changing the World One Jumper at a Time | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Changing the World One Jumper at a Time

Life&Style Writer Zuzanna Edwards explores the influential history of clothing brand Sonia Rykiel and how its inspiring new collection is doing its part for women charities

A limited edition jumper collection was released in October under the Sonia Rykiel label, celebrating 50 years since its first store opened, with all proceeds going to charity.

Dubbed the “Queen of Knits,” Rykiel’s designs have become a legendary staple piece in wardrobes since 1968.  At a time when only high-end brands would be featured on the cover of a magazine, Rykiel permanently transformed the face of the fashion world when her signature ‘Poor Boy Sweater’ was printed on the cover of French Elle in 1963. The design went against the uncomfortable jumper styles that were popular at the time, and instead designed a practical, yet flattering pullover sweater for the young and trendy women of the 60s. Famously attracting the attention of actress Audrey Hepburn (who bought one in each of the 14 colours), the overwhelming success ultimately lead to the first Sonia Rykiel store opening just five years later on the Left Bank, Paris.

Rykiel permanently transformed the face of the fashion world when her signature ‘Poor Boy Sweater’ was printed on the cover of French Elle in 1963
With such an empowering message behind her original design, it seems only right that the collection that celebrates Rykiel’s 50 years in fashion should follow suit. Julie de Libran, who has been artistic director of the label since 2014, has asked a group of influential women to create a jumper design each, to contribute to the collection. The participants, including Kristen Scott Thomas, Kazuyo Sejima and Sue-Jin Kang, are successful women from different walks of life: from actresses to activists. Each contributor has also been requested to select a charity that focuses on helping women in need, to which a portion of the project’s profits will be donated.

American illustrator and model, Langley Fox, incorporates Rykiel’s signature vertical stripe into her own design, choosing to donate these profits to Le Refuge, who provide support to victims of homophobia in France. Another notable example is Liya Kebede’s use of fabric from her ‘ethical fashion’ brand, Lemlem, whose aim is to increase artisan jobs within Africa. Kebede’s chosen charity is thus the Lemlem Foundation, who put women at the heart of this mission. Whilst all the jumpers seem to vary greatly from one another, representing the different personas that designed them, they come together through a unifying message that seeks a better world for women across the globe.

It is admirable to see the Sonia Rykiel label leading by example, and donating to charities that are close to the heart of the brand’s feminist spirit

Whilst scandals of human exploitation are not unfamiliar to certain brands, designers such as Maje, Coach and Kate Spade New York (amongst many others) have in recent years launched numerous charitable schemes, demonstrating the positive impact that the fashion industry has the potential to make. In light of this, it is admirable to see the Sonia Rykiel label leading by example, and donating to charities that are close to the heart of the brand’s feminist spirit. Just as the Poor Boy Sweater played an essential role as a style landmark through its liberating of women’s fashion, de Libran’s project is working to maintain Rykiel’s legacy of female empowerment.

The limited edition sweaters went on sale in October, and are available in the Sonia Rykiel store in Paris, as well as featuring for a fortnight at 10 Corso Como New York.



Published

4th December 2018 at 7:00 am

Last Updated

3rd December 2018 at 11:32 am



Images from

Daian Gan



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