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The Belgian fashion designer Christian Wijnants is the type of feel-good creator that you want to wear, and you want to know. His warm personality feels woven into the collection he’s creating, with threads of joy, escape, and adventure. The direct connection is how he wants his customers to feel—comfortable, expressive, and genuine.
Last week on Instagram Live, we spoke with Wijnants. While he was isolated in Antwerp, we saw bits of his inspiration board and fabrics on a mannequin peeking over his shoulder. His upbeat spirit flooded the talk, as he updated us on how he’s handling the health crisis lockdown, and how his constant inspirations—nature and art—shine from his designs.
For those who missed it, Whitewall caught up with Wijnants once more.
WHITEWALL: How are you doing amid COVID-19? How are you staying inspired?
CHRISTIAN WIJNANTS: I essentially worked from home through our lockdown, staying in my apartment with my partner and my dog.
I found it peaceful as I worked in a very serene atmosphere with less stress and chaos then the office, where I am constantly disturbed. It was interesting to work with such a strong focus and peaceful mindset, with more of an ability to concentrate.
When lockdown began, I was in the beginning of designing a new collection, as I had just returned from Paris fashion week. I am currently working on new ideas, mood boards, and finding sources of inspiration.
I was always fascinated by the idea of escapism—dreaming away, traveling through our imagination. I love the idea of escaping reality and exploring new places.
I have a huge library and love to stroll through my books, so have been doing that during this time, as well. The library consists of art, photography, architecture, landscape art, magazines, travel, etc.
Some of my current favorites for art are: Marlene Dumas, Alice Neel, Peter Doig, Henry Taylor, Gerhart Richter, John Lurie, Wes Anderson, Jeroen Bosch, Victor Pasmore, Raoul Dufy, Luc Tuymans, Kiki Smith, Viallat, and Nicolas de Stael.
For fashion and fashion history: Biba, Issey Miyake, and Maske (Phyllis Galemko).
For magazine: Love, Gentlewomen, Gutch, Self Service, Double, Vogue Italia, Dazed and Confused, and Another Magazine.
For Photography: Viviane Sassen, Volfgang Tillmans, Mikael Olsson, David Hamilton, and William Wegman.
And for books about the world: I’m looking at books about Iran, The Roma Journey, Himba, The Saddus, and The Hyena & Other Men.
I also love to re-watch old movies, some of my current favorites are: Black Cat Wite Cat, In the Mood for Love, The Darjeeling Express, Grand Budapest Hotel, Kika, Rosemary’s Baby, Indiana Jones, Secrets and Lies, Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amelie Pulain, Manon des Sources, Le Grande Vadrouille, Delicatessen, Queen Margot, Gandhi, and Un éTé Meurtrier.
WW: Tell us a bit about your creative journey leading up to founding your eponymous label—from attending the Royal Academy of Arts to working for Dries von Noten.
CW: As a teenager, I was fascinated by Antwerp designers like Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, and Martin Margiela. These were very exciting times, when fashion was much more mysterious, as it was before the Internet and the overexposure of fashion. Shows were filtered and only a few images were seen from each show.
In 2000, I graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and received the Dries Van Noten award for my graduation collection and, because of that, joined his design team in Antwerp. I then won the Festival of Hyeres in 2001 and decided to launch my collection after receiving support from buyers and press. It was because of that competition that I got the confidence to start my own brand. Some of my first clients were Colette, Jeffrey NY, Henry Bendel, and Via Bus Stop in Tokyo.
I started very small, following Dries’ advice to launch a brand in a slow but steady way—to not immediately do shows and spend lots of money on marketing. Instead, establish a name and strong relationships with retailers and producers, first. Build a strong solid base and then develop the brand from there. Very down to earth. It has succeeded, as I have been in business for 17 years.
WW: Tell us a bit about the label’s DNA—the feminine nature, and poetic draping, folds, and silhouettes.
CW: As you mentioned, I like something poetic and fresh. I like clothes that make you feel good. The idea of comfort is also essential for me, can you move, breathe, dance, etc.
I hate the idea of clothing that restricts your movement or dictates the way you walk or behave. I like to feel free and I think that is way I love knitwear so much—the idea of freedom, clothes that adapt to your body.
Nothing too complicated or sophisticated. I like when things look natural, almost effortless. I tend to not like when people put too much attention on their appearance, too much make-up, surgery, etc. I personally prefer a sort of natural sophistication; I am very much attracted to natural beauty. Also, the idea of accepting wo you are and that you should not change yourself unless you want to.
It is the idea of less is more, the idea of raw beauty—like in nature, unfiltered.
Fashion designers should not be dictators, telling the people how to dress or what to wear. We are just making suggestions for people to interpret it in their own way. It is the idea of adaptation.
WW: How does being based in Antwerp impact the label’s creative energy?
CW: It is a harbor, one of the biggest in Europe, so the city has always been a mix of cultures, imported by trade and shipping from other continents.
There is a rich cultural heritage here, which consists of great painters and beautiful historic remains from as far back as the seventeen century, baroque churches, gothic building, etc.
Also, great designers, such as Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela, Raf Simons, Veronique Brandquinho, Dirk Van Saene, Walter Van Beirendonck and many more.
WW: Tell us a bit about your relationship to art.
CW: It is a great source of inspiration as I have mentioned previously. I love to visit art galleries and enjoy the overall atmosphere of museums.
I also love crafts like textile arts, weaving, tie-dye, shibori, silk painting, macramé, crochet, knotting crapets… I find them fascinating.
WW: Have you been inspired by any new artists or creatives lately, that have impacted your designs?
CW: Two American portraitists come to mind—Henry Taylor and Alice Neel. They both have very expressive styles, sometimes even their unfinished paintings. There is something very raw and spontaneous about them, but also, fresh and poetic.
WW: Tell us a bit about your view of fashion as craft.
CW: I find it important to mix crafts and more industrial techniques in a collection, which is another reason why I love knitwear, you can do both.
We use different embroideries, handcrafts, etc., depending on the season and the time.
It takes time to develop and is sometimes more difficult to reproduce but is so satisfying when you are able to do it. Every piece is unique and authentic.
WW: What are you working on now?
CW: I am currently working on our next collection. Due to the crisis, we are looking at what are essential pieces and possibly narrowing down our collection. It is an interesting exercise to focus on what is essential.
WW: With the pandemic still ever-present, how do you feel is it changing, or will change, the fashion industry? The work of fashion designers?
CW: It is allowing designers the time to have a strong focus and hopefully, slowing down the rhythm. I hope we can also change the delivery windows of collection, to make them more related to the actual season.