Spotlight on: Belgian designer Christian Wijnants

Winner of the 2012/13 International Woolmark Prize

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Often, true genius stems from the simplest ideas. Starting with white yarn, the Belgian fashion designer Christian Wijnants set out to explore the potential of that single fibre. So the Antwerp-based designer experimented, incorporating hand looming and hand dyeing techniques. The results were striking and sculptural. Or, as Franca Sozzani, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia and L'Uomo Vogue put it: "Christian invented a new shape."

 

International Woolmark Prize

Knitted into one seamless piece, Wijnants' garments were rendered in colours taking inspiration from crystals and minerals. Some were unravelled before being re-knitted, others employed varying gauges, together forming a unique, irregular finish. Wijnants' yarn exploration formed the basis of a 100 per cent Merino capsule collection created for the finals of the 2013 International Woolmark Prize (IWP).

"His designs are flattering, feminine and sexy, a modern interpretation of wool," Sozzani said as she announced the then-34-year-old designer victorious over his five peers at the London finals. Sozzani and fellow judges Victoria Beckham, Donatella Versace, Diane von Furstenburg and Tim Blanks selected Wijnants from a global pool of talent including Dion Lee (Australia), Ban Xiao Xue (China), Pankaj and Nidhi (India), DRESSEDUNDRESSED (Japan) and Sophie Theallet (USA)—a group already whittled down from over 70 designers in 16 countries.

 

FASHION INDUSTRY RECOGNITION

It wasn't the first time the fashion design industry has recognised Wijnants and it's unlikely to be the last. The accolades began from the outset. The Brussels-born designer was awarded the Christine Mathijs prize for his graduate collection at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp in 2000. Bestowed by Academy alumnus—and Belgium's biggest fashion export—Dries Van Noten, the award augured well for Wijnants. He is threatening to become as much of an industry name as Van Noten himself.

Wijnants' groundbreaking Merino collection is set to introduce his talents to a new, global audience.

After winning the Festival d'Hyéres Grand Prix the following year, it seemed almost a fait accompli. Now, with the IWP under his belt, Wijnants' groundbreaking Merino collection is set to introduce his talents to a new, global audience.

"There are so many fantastic elements to the prize," Wijnants said. "Firstly the amazing opportunity to sell my collection through six of the top retail stores in the world."

The capsule collection is set to appear on the shelves of Harvey Nichols (London), Bergdorf Goodman (New York), 10 Corso Cormo (Milan), Joyce (Hong Kong), Eickhoff Konigsallee (Germany) and David Jones (Sydney) from September 2013. "I am not currently stocked in any of these stores so it is a great opportunity to work with such important retailers," he added.

The work the designer put into the range shows in his unique colours and the methods he developed to avoid garment shrinkage. For Wijnants, the synergy between his design worldview and the versatility of fleece was obvious.

 

Christian Wijnants and Woolmark

"I really believe in the environmental benefits of wool which aligns closely to my own brand philosophy of using natural fibres," Wijnants says. "The connection that I now have to the Woolmark brand is super important and a great honour."

Lanvin artistic director Alber Elbaz, tasked with naming Wijnants European IWP finalist in 2012, made no bones about the fact that craftsmanship was the leading criteria. "Christian's work was right for the project," he said. "It was about knitwear, construction and technique."

The IWP, clearly, is an honour intended to go beyond beauty and recognise artisanship. For his part, Wijnants is grateful for the recognition. "It was very impressive to be in front of such esteemed industry celebrities with such a wealth of knowledge in fashion," he said.

If he hasn't already, it won't be long before he joins their ranks.

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