Right in the middle of it all — the marching geese, the cheerleaders, the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round, the Eiffel Tower, the “magical forest” shrouded in puffs of dry ice, the cigarette girls offering mini chocolate eclairs, the unicyclist/waiter pouring coffee from a pot balanced on top of his head (“
Est-ce que vous voulez un café?”), the fortune teller, the mountains of cakes and candies, the magnums of champagne and the parade floats helmed by a small army of gorgeous models wearing frizzy red wigs in homage to a fashion icon —
Sonia Rykiel, looking quite tiny and frail in the group of revellers, could be seen giving her daughter, Nathalie, president and artistic director of the company, a thumbs-up. It was an intimate mother/daughter moment in an otherwise over-the-bigtop fashion spectacle to launch two Sonia Rykiel collaborations with
H&M: lingerie (which became available in December) and a knitwear collection that is due out in stores on February 20. While the brand is beloved in Paris, it’s not as well known in North America. The partnership with H&M should change all that.

“The idea behind the show was to bring out the child in everyone, to see a sparkle in their eyes,” says Nathalie, who is still recovering from the previous night’s festivities. “I left the party around 2 a.m., and when I got home I found that my daughter had invited eight friends over, so please forgive my voice — it’s nearly gone,” she whispers. But Frenchwomen are indefatigable fashion warriors, so, despite her low energy, she looks seriously chic in a black silk slip dress, high leather boots, a fur coat draped casually around her shoulders and two fabulous rings: one a giant turquoise, the other a diamond.

Learn more about Sonia Rykiel’s daughter on the next page …

Video: Sonia and Nathalie chat about passion for knitwear

“Rykiel is really a different kind of company,” explains Nathalie. “We’re family-owned, and we’re run by women. What interests me is the woman behind the clothes — she’s more important.” Nathalie had originally planned on becoming a doctor or a movie director, but when she was 20 years old, her mother asked her to model in a show. She agreed. “I had no confidence,” she recalls. “I dropped five kilograms in a week and ended up modelling for five seasons. Then I decided that what I really wanted to do was work behind the scenes in the company.”

If you happen to wander over to Rykiel’s flagship boutique on Boulevard Saint-Germain, be prepared to experience some sticker shock. The beauty of Rykiel’s collaboration with H&M is that it marries the brand’s cheeky/sexy sensibility with H&M’s affordability. “We have always carried less-expensive items in our shops, such as candles, books and even sex toys,” says Nathalie, “but now we’re doing it on a large scale. After such a tough [economic] year, women will still be able to wear Rykiel.”

Nathalie sees fashion as a balm for the spirit. “You have to fight day to day in life, especially if you’re not privileged. I wouldn’t say that I’m an optimist — you’d have to be a little bit stupid to be an optimist. But, at the same time, I have to help people dream. Fashion is a dream, and sometimes you can be a part of that dream.”

Read more

Slideshow: Sonia Rykiel’s H&M collection

Runway video: Sonia Rykiel for H&M

Paris Party: Sonia Rykiel for H&M