Christian Wijnants has established himself as an up and coming force in the fashion industry. The Antwerp-based designer, famed for his knitwear, was awarded the prestigious International Woolmark Prize last year, and the offers have since been pouring in.
On top of developing womenswear collections for his own eponymous label, Wijnants has been working together with Chinese concept fashion brand EQ:IQ. What began as a single-season capsule collection has turned into a full-blown collaboration.
"When they approached me in Paris three years ago, we decided to start off small. Things grew bigger and bigger, and now I come to Hong Kong every three or four months," he says.
EQ:IQ stores carry both the partnered collection and Wijnants' own label, and at the presentation of the two autumn-winter collections in Hong Kong last week, Wijnants revealed that the inspiration for both came from the Japanese artist Tsuguharu Foujita.
Known for his bowl haircut, toothbrush moustache and a love of cats and birds as much as for his art, Foujita's influence can be seen all over these collections.
"I very much like Foujita's poetic sense, his very sensitive, very subtle approach and his use of soft colours," says Wijnants.
Foujita's fondness for animals is reflected in Wijnants' use of paw prints, faux fur and illustrations inspired by cats and dogs.
"There's a reference to something sweet and tender in his work and I wanted to put that in my clothes," Wijnants says.
Viewed side by side, the two collections are visually different even if the inspirations are the same, but Wijnants explains there is another distinction.
"For EQ:IQ, a lot of the fabrics were locally sourced, and for my own collection most of the fabrics are Italian or European, so the quality is slightly different and my collection's prices are slightly higher. But in general the approach is kind of the same, I would say," says Wijnants.
The work for EQ:IQ has certainly raised his profile in China, but he doesn't design with an Asian silhouette in mind.
"From the start I have always had Japanese clients, but I have also had clients from Hong Kong and South Korea as well as Scandinavia and Germany. They are all different, and this aspect has always been a challenging part of my work," says Wijnants.
Speaking specifically of his work with EQ:IQ, Wijnants says it isn't all just felines and bird prints, even though those pieces are the most eye-catching.
"The cat prints, well, they are very fresh and very girly and young, but as we go deeper into the winter aspects of the collections we're getting heavier and there is an influence from the Swiss Alps," he says.
In both collections, Wijnants' undoubted technical skill with knits comes to the fore, but he seems equally adept at working with satin silk, tweed and leather.
Going back to Foujita, Wijnants was looking to reference the texture the painter achieved with his use of repeated brush strokes. "I use a lot of different textures, and put them together, or layer them, so I end up with a kind of painted texture," he says.