Fashion designer Christian Wijnants on his 20th collection and winning the Woolmark prize

Antwerp-based designer Christian Wijnants presented his 20th collection to press and buyers in Paris last month. After launching his own brand in 2003, Wijnants has been a constant presence within Belgian fashion, despite keeping a consistently low profile. This might be about to change, however, since the announcement he won the Woolmark prize last summer and will once again be gracing the catwalks of Paris next year.

You won the international Woolmark prize for Europe with your knitwear design. How did that feel?

It was great. It’s a global competition including Europe, China, India, Australia and the US. I had to design a piece made from at least 80% wool. The goal is to promote merino wool and I designed a structured dress, which was 100% wool and entirely hand knit. We all met in London for the jury and presented our designs to Alber Elbaz from Lanvin, Tim Blanks from, Alexandra Shulman from Vogue UK, Christiane Arp from Vogue Germany and Dean and Dan Caten from Dsquared2. The jury deliberated the same day. It was all very quick.

And how much did you win?

50,000 Australian dollars.

Do you have to use wool in your next collection?

No, I don’t. I will have to go back to London next February to showcase 5 more silhouettes at Fashion Week and will use some of the money for that. It’s the final competition and each designer will present 6 looks. It’s exciting doing a show again.

You used to show in Paris, didn’t you? Any plans to go back?

Yes, I’m planning on doing a show next year. It’s difficult in Paris, because you have to invest a lot of money for a show and there isn’t any help there. Sometimes, I wish designers could get together to share costs, using one location on the same day or splitting production bills.

Your last Spring Summer collection is your 20th. How long have you been in the business?

I presented my first collection in 2002, which was Spring Summer 2003. That means I’ve been working on my collection for 10 years now, even though it doesn’t really feel that long.

Instead of investing in a big party, I will have a show in Paris next March.

Time to step back and reassess?

Not really. People around me keep saying I should do something special to celebrate it, but it’s not really my thing. Instead of investing in a big party, I will have a show in Paris next March.

Do you have a press agent in Paris?

I’m still looking for one. These are always the kind of decisions that are hard to make. Sometimes you want to work with an agency and meet the owner, but the contact is not that great. I’m very sensitive to chemistry and need to get on with the person who will represent me. They may be hardworking and well-connected, I find it difficult to work with someone I don’t have an affinity for. They also have to care about your clothes and understand them. I worked with previous PRs before, and it felt like I was just another name on their list. I don’t want that.

I love all the prints in your new collection. What were they inspired by?

We looked at sea shells and stained glass windows. We take elements, which we blow up digitally until they become fairly abstract. For this last collection, I was mainly inspired by Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Escapism, love and childish motifs were on my mind, as well as boy scouts and traditional clothing. I mixed Western influences with Indian draping. I wanted to bring more structured fabrics, too, as people mainly know me for fluid pieces and relaxed shapes.

Was it like a culture clash in a way?

I guess so. Although there are multiple references within the collection, I was focusing on the notions of serenity and inner strength, which felt important to me. Aung San Suu Kyi was an ongoing source of inspiration. We also collaborated with Frederik Heyman this time.

What did he do?

He made some drawings for us, which we used as prints on certain pieces.

Who’s your model for the last lookbook?

I worked with Iekeliene Stange, who is Dutch and based in Amsterdam. I have a thing for Dutch models at the moment. Iekeliene is really versatile and I love that. She can be boyish, seductive or innocent looking. Last season, we worked with Querelle Jansen, who is also Dutch. Carlotta Manaigo shot our lookbook and I like working with women.

The location looks quite exotic.

The shoot took place in Belgium actually. I guess we were lucky with the weather.