Belgian designer for Hong Kong's EQ:IQ celebrates opening of his own store
Christian Wijnants says Antwerp outlet is the first step in expansion plan
Hong Kong has played a key role in the career of rising Belgian designer Christian Wijnants, who recently unveiled his eponymous brand's first stand-alone store in Antwerp.
Unknown to many, the Brussels-born designer has close ties to Hong Kong. And in his role as creative director of local label EQ:IQ, he visits the city often and enjoys support from the owners who stock his label in their stores. His brand has also made giant strides in the Japanese market.
"Hong Kong people are very, very aware of fashion, you see it everywhere. In Europe, sometimes people are more conservative in general, but in Asia they are more daring and experimental," he says.
With that in mind, Wijnants is eyeing Hong Kong and mainland China as the next steps for his own stores. This year marks a decade since the label was launched, and with prestigious Woolmark and Andam prizes under his belt, it feels like he's on the cusp of something big.
The Antwerp store is a stylish minimalist space with rails of his interesting designs against a backdrop of a glass wall that looks onto a subtropical garden.
It is a chilly autumn day in the diamond trading capital of the world when we sit down to talk to the talented young designer. Sitting on one of two leather designer chairs, Wijnants is in a buoyant mood. "I finally have a space where I can express myself fully - also in an architectural way, an environment where your vision is fully realised," he says.
He explains how the store is a starting point. His label is embracing e-commerce this month, and he's aiming to develop a fuller accessories line.
Wijnants' charming style is cool, with an easy-to-wear northern European attitude, but infused with exotic elements and textures. Knits are his favourite medium and comfort for women of all shapes and sizes is his priority.
Wijnants follows in some illustrious fashion footsteps, having graduated from Antwerp's famed Royal Academy of Fine Arts. It's the same institution that gave the world the Antwerp Six - Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee - a group of critically acclaimed designers who graduated under Linda Loppa in the early 1980s.
"They were role models," says Wijnants of that generation, "and growing up in Brussels, being so close to Antwerp, fashion was an early revelation. When I was 14 or 15, I came to the city and saw the Dries Van Noten store and the Fashion Academy and was attracted to the creativity, but also the human approach to fashion".
While each Antwerp designer has a distinctive style of their own - there is no "Antwerp style" per se - Wijnants does believe that the city has focused a lot around fashion as clothing and not just as image.
"Sometimes I see designers and it's all about the runway show rather than what ends up on the rack."
His current collection is inspired by photographer Jackie Nickerson's provocative series on Sub-Saharan African farmers. The influence is evident in the naive patterns (see the block print leaf) and big, snug, luxurious wrap-blanket coats. Shirts and dresses are loose, but in fluid fabrics and tied with cord to give a more feminine shape. There was playful plaid, roughly layered organza fabrics, all raw-edged, and plenty of mohair. Colours are earthy and vibrant, referencing the African landscape.
"Sometimes it's not a particular thing or person, but more of a feeling that inspires me," says Wijnants, "like the feeling of cosiness, for example, or an emotion."
Wijnants' nerdy obsession with materials and fabrics is obvious when you visit his atelier and workshops. Perhaps most interestingly, he always starts a collection by reflecting those initial abstract ideas and feelings in "the textiles, the fabrics, the yarn and the stitches, before really the shapes and the styling take hold".
His spring-summer 2016 catwalk show featured bright bolts of sunny yellow, layered and blocked with raw hemmed airy and gauzy fabrics on dresses with a sexy "undone" look. Fringing was a big and beautiful feature, expertly adding dynamism and movement to a tightly edited collection.
"I like colours, prints, organic shapes; for me comfort is very important. It means you feel good in yourself, you're not trying to be someone else or someone from a magazine. I'm not dictating to my customer, I'm proposing," he says with a smile.