Of Women Who Move Forward: Sonia Rykiel’s ‘démode’


  • Karen Van Godtsenhoven Ghent University



Parole chiave:

Fashion, Feminism, Sonia Rykiel, Démode, Transmediality


Through the central concept of movement, interpreted in three different ways, this article delves into the life and work of French fashion designer and author Sonia Rykiel, who treated fashion design as a form of transmedial écriture. Rykiel’s unruly and innovative concept of the ‘démode’ was launched in the context of a generational and relational movement of resistance against authority, liberating women from the changing diktats of the fashion industry (breaking out of generational hierarchies and frameworks of fashionable time). Secondly, it was an embodied and feminist movement, a democratization of fashion enabling the physical mobility of women who wore her skirts with undone hems, as well as reversible, adaptable jersey sweaters with exterior seams, central components of the démode concept.  The démode also allows for a contextualization of Rykiel’s work with regards to the notions of écriture féminine and female pleasure as expressed by French feminists of her day, including Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Antoinette Fouque of the MLF (Mouvement de la Libération des Femmes). As such it is a breaking free of patriarchal structures, including garment construction, as well as breaking free of the masculinist ’68 revolution. Finally, the movement between different media, from garments to writing and “written garments” (transmediality) is analyzed as an artistic statement, expressing a desire to be both naked/ blank page as well as to write and to dress oneself.

Biografia autore

Karen Van Godtsenhoven, Ghent University

Karen Van Godtsenhoven is an independent fashion curator and Phd candidate at the Art History, Musicology and Theatre Studies department at Ghent University, Belgium. She has recently co-curated the exhibition Women Dressing Women: A Lineage of Female Fashion Design (2023) and contributed to the Kimono Style exhibition (2022) for The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she was an associate curator from 2017-2021. Before that, she was a curator at MoMu the Antwerp fashion museum, where she worked, amongst others, on the exhibitions Game Changers: Reinventing the Twentieth Century Silhouette (2016) and Olivier Theyskens: She Walks in Beauty (2017). She has written extensively about fashion curation and edited the Border Garments: Fashion, Feminisms and Disobedience special issue of the Fashion Studies Journal (2023). She recently co-curated the exhibition M&Others: Fashion and Motherhood at ModeMuseum Hasselt (2024) and works as a fashion curator for The Barbican Centre in London since 2024. In 2023 she received the “Ordine della Stella d’Italia”, the chivalric Order of the Star of Italy conferred by the President of the Republic.




Come citare

Van Godtsenhoven, K. (2024). Of Women Who Move Forward: Sonia Rykiel’s ‘démode’. Elephant & Castle, (32), 59–71. https://doi.org/10.62336/unibg.eac.32.521