"The annual fashion show is the springboard for many Masters at the start of their careers"

In May 2000, Christian Wijnants presented his graduation collection and became a Master in Fashion at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Now, 24 years later, he is internationally known for his poetic, fresh collections that are fashionable without following a trend. His creations start from a dreamy inspiration that gives his design an unmistakable softness.

© Christian Wijnants

Christian Wijnants
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Christian lives and works in Antwerp and sells his collections all over the world. He has also opened a physical shop in Berlin. In between all the hustle and bustle, he regularly commutes between Antwerp and Brussels where he likes to visit his family, his half-Swiss roots.

We asked him what the fashion show meant to him at the time and how he is doing now.

A great show, a healthy dose of stress and an entry into the fashion world

Christian Wijnants: "That show meant something mega, mega big to me. You almost went to the Fashion Academy in Antwerp for this annual show (laughs). People from Paris, London and other fashion capitals as well as headhunters and famous fashion journalists, came to see the show. You worked all year with this show and audience in mind… How will the back of that coat look on the catwalk…? It was a huge motivation to show your best creations there. And you were always living towards the end of an academic year to show your work to prominent people in the fashion world.

All students feel a healthy pressure to perform - the fashion world is very stressful these days - and students must learn to deal with it. An intense collaboration during the education creates close relationships and a lot of respect for each other's work. The Masters also share the same passion - fashion - and have come to believe in what they do. And there is plenty of room for all their different, incomparable styles.”

“On the catwalk, students often choose something grandiose, sometimes too extravagant or bombastic, whereas subtle details in design are also very beautiful. I miss that sometimes. But yes, the audience in the back row should be able to see it too".

"This show has also raised the level of the Academy year after year. It is - after all - the springboard for many Masters to launch their careers.”

Christian Wijnants

How did you start as a fashion designer?

"When I graduated I was awarded for "best collection" by Dries Van Noten. That's how the show works: it is prime time to get noticed and recruited. Dries asked me to join his team, but I wanted to do an internship in Paris first. I also won a fashion competition in Hyères near Marseille and made great contacts there to start a collection. But I still felt too young. After a year of working at Dries Van Noten and the constant demand to start my first collection, I was ready.

Dries gave me the golden advice to start slow but steady and to build good relationships with manufacturers and clients. And that has been my baseline all these years. It is not so difficult to dress celebrities or to attract attention with very excentric fashion, it is difficult to keep it up for years and to have enough money to keep going. The main thing is to have happy customers who come back regularly.

For the first three years, I did everything myself. I put a small collection on the market with my own money, and with the sales, I was able to create a new collection. It is not easy, because in fashion we sometimes talk about a year's pre-financing. But after a few years, my business had grown so much that I was able to ask the bank for financing.

Fashion is an uncertain business. If a collection is not strong enough or collections from other designers are more successful, you lose customers. You don't have a contract with them. Whether they buy yours depends on many uncertain factors".

Christian Wijnants - Summer 2024

How big is your team now?

There are 15 of us in the team now and we work with six freelancers.

And... still based in Antwerp

"Yes, it's nice to be here. Historically, it was the place to be. Nowadays, you could work perfectly well from Budapest or Belgrade. But our shop and studio are in Antwerp because this city is still strongly associated with fashion; customers like the fact that you are a fashion brand from Antwerp. Even designers like Pieter Mulier (Maison Alaïa) or Raf Simons (Prada), who didn't study at the academy here, have an affinity with Antwerp. I like living and working in Antwerp. The city is neither too big nor too small. You are quickly in other big cities or the countryside. The cultural offer is great and the quality of life is very high; we don't pay a crazy price for our nice, big studio here in the city centre".

"You'll find our shop and studio in Antwerp because this city is still strongly associated with fashion; customers like the fact that you are a fashion brand from Antwerp".

Christian Wijnants

I suppose - I know! - your collection is now sold worldwide

"Our collections can be found in brand mix shops, boutiques and department stores in Asia - especially in Japan, but also in Korea and China - in Australia and New Zealand, in the Americas from Hawaii to San Francisco and from New York to Chicago, and of course here in Central Europe.

Yes, we have customers from all over the world, so diverse and different. They walk around in my design in all these cities. And I can play a small part in their lives. That is what makes my job so much fun. Sometimes I bump into a customer, like recently in Paris where I saw a Japanese woman wearing a dress out of a collection dated four years ago. Then, of course, I go over and want to have a chat with her."

“This is the reason I started studying fashion. To make people feel good wearing what I design. To me, that is so much more important than dressing a red carpet celebrity.”

Christian Wijnants

How sustainable is the Christian Wijnants collection?

"I make clothes that you want to wear, that you value. Buying a piece from a collection is an investment you have to think about. My brand is certainly not cheap, but I like people who make a choice and buy clothes they want to wear for years or pass on to their children. For me, sustainability means buying clothes you want to wear for a long time. Yesterday a friend told me that at a fair in Milan, he saw someone wearing an outfit I made 9 years ago. That makes me happy. That's why I do it, I already told you. It is the combination of quality and beautiful fabrics in a timeless design; a garment you are happy to wear."

A second shop. Why in Berlin?

"We wanted this shop in Berlin because the German market is important to us. And because Berlin is a cool city with many layers, diverse and rough: not too smooth, not too clean and not too pretty. In Berlin there are Turkish shops next to carpet shops next to sex shops next to striptease tents and in between a few fashion boutiques. Everything just exists next to each other and I like that. Yes, Berlin is an alternative city.

After a year and a half and three fashion seasons, I feel the interest. Customers have found their way to our shop and are coming back. Shopping in Berlin is different from shopping in Antwerp: in Berlin, it's all about destination shopping. You go to a store because you want to go to that store. We have fewer customers there, but the people who visit our shop are potential customers. So, Berlin is a work in progress. And every season it gets better, even after the economic downturn Germany has experienced these recent months.”

Christian Wijnants store in Berlin

Blowing out party candles? Is Christian Wijnants label 20 or 21?

"Last year it was 20 candles, this year we are celebrating 21 years. We launched our first collection in the summer of 2003. Last year we hesitated and finally decided not to do anything. Now we are waiting for our 25th anniversary (laughs)".

Finally, what wishes and advice would you give to this year's Masters?

"Good luck, of course. And then, above all, a lot of patience. You graduate from one of the best fashion schools in the world. Then you feel like doing your own thing. But you need to and are still learning a lot, you are just at the beginning of your career. Keep your feet on the ground. And stay yourself, stay authentic. Don't follow the trends too much."


Thanks Christian, see you at the fashion show. And... break a leg, Masters!

Christian Wijnants - Winter 2024
Christian Wijnants - Winter 2024