You know that old chestnut that French women don’t work out? According to Paris native Lola Rykiel, ce n’est pas vrai. And it’s a good thing, too, considering the 33-year-old granddaughter of the late French designer Sonia Rykiel is launching her athleticwear line, Pompom, this November. “It’s interesting to look at women in Paris and their relationships with working out,” says Rykiel, who splits her time between Paris and New York. “Before, it was taboo—they were doing it, but it definitely wasn’t something they wanted to talk about. The French woman is supposed to be mysterious and look amazing naturally. She’s not supposed to work on it. But that’s changing. People are realizing it’s good to live fuller lives. You cannot survive on cigarettes and coffee. At least not for a long time.”
Rykiel was never one to hide her athletic inclinations—though her first workouts were certainly chicer than, say, grunting at Barry’s Bootcamp. Growing up, she studied dance at the prestigious Martha Graham School in New York. And while she comes from a fabled fashion family, she seriously considered leaving la mode behind for a life on the stage. “I wanted to be a dancer, but what I later realized was what I loved the most about the dance world was the beauty and the costumes—the whole image.”
Both worlds collide in Rykiel’s debut design effort, which is inspired in part by what she and her friends would wear during rehearsals. “You wanted to be chic but comfortable,” Rykiel recalls. With brightly-hued velour tracksuits and ballerina-worthy Lycra looks, her first Pompom collection strikes that balance.
Pompom’s gear is suited to many types of workouts. Rykiel has test driven the wares herself in Pilates and yoga classes, which she takes between four and six times a week. But the line isn’t just meant for the gym. There’s an iridescent paillette-covered tank that can be worn post workout or out on the town, and Rykiel suggests pairing the brand’s tapered track pants with pumps. “It’s nice to wear a paillette during the day and velour during the night with heels—do whatever you want!” she says.
That high-low, devil-may-care approach is inspired by Rykiel’s grandmother. “I think it’s really cool to wear sweatpants with heels because I remember one of my grandmother’s [runway] brides was wearing sweatpants, a smoky eye, and huge heels. It can be glamorous,” Rykiel says. “My grandmother would always tell me that there’s no such thing as bad style or bad taste. And I love that—nothing is rigid, nothing is set in stone.”
Rykiel is honoring her grandmother’s memory with this line—the latter’s namesake collection, most recently designed by Julie de Libran, folded in July. “It’s a huge legacy to live up to and I’m trying to do it in a way that’s a tribute,” says Rykiel, whose grandmother transformed the Paris fashion landscape with liberating, irreverent ready-to-wear starting in the 1960s. “I’m trying to continue a bit of the stuff that she would have done. I feel like it’s what I have to do.”
Rykiel is paying homage by working with the very same velour her grandmother used in her playful collections. She found the French factory responsible for the plush stuff and bought up every last bit of the vintage ’90s fabric. The name, too, nods to her grandmother. “During my childhood, I was wearing Rykiel Enfant, and I was looking at my grandmother and my mother wearing lipstick and high heels, but I wasn’t allowed to have these accessories,” she says. “The first accessories I was allowed to have were pom-poms. My grandmother would add them to a sweater or a skirt.” The line’s moniker also refers to Rykiel’s childhood fascination with the stereotypical American girl—specifically cheerleaders waving their pom-poms in the air. (It’s worth noting that Rykiel chose the Americanized spelling of pom-pom, derived from the French pompon.)
With prices ranging from $150 to $430, Pompom will be available online at www.pompom-paris.com from November and will also be sold in London at Rykiel’s father’s store, The Place. In addition to wearing the gear herself, Rykiel plans to make her mother (a Pilates fan) and sisters (her oldest is a yoga instructor) her “first victims.” “I’m just going for it,” Rykiel adds of her new business. “I want to help women work out and feel glamorous.” Nothing taboo about that.