Christian Wijnants, Fashion Designer

Christian Wijnants attended the fashion program at Antwerp’s prestigious Royal Academy, and upon graduating, won the Hyéres prize, the Dries Van Noten prize, and a coveted assistant spot in Van Noten’s atelier. Then, two years after starting his own line in 2003, he banked 100,000 euros as the winner of the Swiss Textile Award, beating out Giles Deacon and Charles Anastase. “I never thought I would even be nominated,” Wijnants told <I>i-D</I> magazine at the time, before proceeding to watch his collection trickle into all of the world’s most respected boutiques and department stores. He was just being modest, of course — the man has unmistakable talent, especially when it comes to his imaginative textiles and knits — but there is something surprising about his success, when you think about it: In a country whose fashion scene skews towards all things experimental, nonconformist, androgynous, and/or dark, the cherub-faced designer is known for both his colorful, feminine aesthetic and his charming geniality. He’s almost too perfect to be cool.

Consider his background: Growing up in Brussels, Wijnants’s artistically inclined family made a habit of exposing him to great art and architecture around Europe, which laid a neat foundation for his discovery of fashion as a teenager. He took a trip to Antwerp at 14 — just as the hype surrounding the Antwerp Six was reaching a fever pitch — and attended an eye-opening catwalk show at the Royal Academy. It was love at first sight. He applied, passed the entrance exam, and enrolled after high school, proving himself an especially eager student even before classes began: “I remember going to the Academy with my parents and asking them if it would be better for me to learn how to stitch and all that before I got there,” Wijnants says. “And they told me no, it’s better that you come with an empty brain because then you’ll have more freedom to experiment and try new things.” Later, after discovering a forgotten knitting machine in his parents’ basement — once used by his mother to make sweaters for the family — he put the Academy’s wisdom to use, teaching himself how to work the machine and eventually ending up with a specialization in knitwear, which he now presides over at his alma mater.

To find Wijnants’s edge, you have to look closer: at the unique cuts of his garments, and at the way he’s still constantly experimenting with both prints and knitting methods. The latter is no small feat. “Everything has been done already somehow in knitwear, so it’s impossible to really invent new things,” he says. “It’s all in your own interpretation of color, composition, and technique.” Sight Unseen visited his Antwerp studio to learn more about that process, and true to his reputation, Wijnants spent an hour cheerfully answering our questions and showing us around, even though he was slammed with less than three weeks until his fall presentation at Paris fashion week. He’s since unveiled his latest creations, and you can read more about how they were made in the slideshow at right.