Monday 30 March 2020

Fashion in the Time of Covid-19: Christian Wijnants Home Comforts

An enveloping creation designed by Chrstian Wijnants shown in Paris last month. Cover picture and all photography by Elli Ioannou 
As the Paris haute couture shows and men's fashion week are cancelled in June and July due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we take a look back at some of the best collections of the Autumn/Winter 2020 season. Belgian designer Christian Wijnants showed one of his most accomplished and evocative collections that also seems just right for our times. Story by Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photography by Elli Ioannou

 Padded, voluminous coat with
 broad, soigné lapels.
DURING these days of coronavirus, when we must stay at home, Christian Wijnant's vision for his Paris autumn/winter 2020 collection seems prophetic. The new collection is all about cosiness and comfort, the clothes providing a sense of enveloping protection and ease.

The voluminous knitwear and fluid prints are just right for working or relaxing in a domestic environment where suits and tight clothes are not needed. Even just a month ago when Christian Wijnants held his show in Paris on a freezing February afternoon at the Palais de Tokyo, the world was a different place.

Today, it was announced that it will be months before there is another fashion show in the French capital. The country's governing body, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, has officially cancelled the upcoming men’s and couture fashion weeks because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The spring/summer 2021 men’s shows were originally scheduled for June 23 to 28 with haute couture taking place from July 5 to July 9.

The Camera Nazionale della Moda, which oversees Italian fashion, has also postponed its men’s shows from June 19 to 23; they will now take place alongside its womenswear week in September.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America is also advising designers not to show resort 2021 collections in May and June and has postponed its menswear week.

So far, Florence’s Pitti Uomo and London’s Men’s Fashion Week, both of which take place at the beginning of June, are still scheduled to go ahead. However, the cancellation of fashion's most important menswear weeks and the couture shows has cast a shadow over the industry, which has been affected, like every other business, by the pandemic.

The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode has officially cancelled the upcoming Paris men’s and couture fashion weeks because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Drapery was one of the highlights
of Wijnants new collection
Talking about his collection shown in Paris last month, Christian Wijnants says he was initially inspired by a winter Sunday afternoon spent at an historic museum: "The collection is about serenity, having a peaceful mind and feeling comfortable and cozy in the clothes you wear." Like an exhibition at a museum, each piece in the collection has a story to tell.

The designer created motifs seen during his gallery visits to create new designs for the fabrics used in the new collection. An electric blue suit with generous proportions is embellished with Picassoesque faces that suggest the Modernist avant-garde. He says an exhibition by Wes Anderson at the Fondazione Prada in Milan also inspired some of his prints.

Christian Wijnants has always made a focus of both knitwear in his work plus vivid prints and they are key to this collection too. The designer also showed great dexterity with draping flowing, chunky knits ~ which may sound like an oxymoron ~ but were in fact sumptuous and soigné. He says he wanted the designs to have an architectural structure but still with a sense of fluidity.

"The collection is about serenity, having a peaceful mind and feeling comfortable and cozy in the clothes you wear."

The fluid drapery of a sage green,
knitted ensemble.
The Belgian used varied techniques including handmade crochet to create new silhouettes. The expansive coats and fluid, colourful suits looked both stylish and loose enough to be comfortable at work or play.

A standout for this season were the designer's  new accessories including tote bags, platform loafers, sturdy sandals worn with socks and combat boots.

The colour palette ranged from mint, pistachio and pink to tangerine, dark green, blue, black and white. The fluid, knitted creation (see at left) in sage green has long, fluttering bands that flow around innovative, wide-leg knit pants.

Another standout knit ensemble was a bright orange, layered top with matching flowing pants (see below) that worked liked the beautiful drapery of an ancient Greek sculpture. Glimpses of a bare arm or back amid the swathes of knitwear gave the billowing pieces a surprising elegance.

Long, padded coats have broad, curving lapels that give them a regal yet sporty look. Their bulk was offset by the slender, semi-transparent shirts worn underneath (see white coat above). The designer also used light, silky fabrics like orange taffeta to create fluted panels that worked with the body and fell in natural, relaxed folds.

Expansive coats and fluid, colourful suits looked both stylish and loose enough to be comfortable in any situation 
Layered knitwear in bright orange with wideleg pants.

Overall it was a beautiful collection where knitwear was used in new and innovative ways. Because Wijnants combined similiar tones and hues for tops, skirts and jumpers he gave the collection a real sense of cohesion.  While the ample proportions did not overwhelm but added a sense of richness and luxury.

Still working with movement and fludity, the designer also created a series of dresses in mesh, covered in long strips of fabric in red, orange and white that kicked out like Twenties' Flapper dresses. A bright blue version was mixed with a sleek mohair coat in a matching deep hue.

There were lots of new abstract patterns and prints that looked both artistic and flattering to wear. The blended knits in black combined with pink or orange were like paintings. The knitted dress and coat, (see below) was a wonderfully skillful combination of different volumes, colours and shapes that would suit any body type while being warm and snug.

Overall it is a beautiful collection where the signature knitwear is used in new and innovative ways

Wonderfully skillful combination of volume, colour
and silhouette in knitwear. 
Today, Christian Wijnants is a masterful designer with a strong vision for his fashion house. But when he was growing up in Brussels he didn't start out with fashion as his focus. He went on to study Latin and mathematics at university before doing a year of fine art where he learned to draw.

He moved to Antwerp in 1996 to study fashion design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Christian Wijnants talent was already apparent when his graduate collection won the Christine Mathijs special prize in 2000. Then a year later he won the Grand Prix at the Festival de la Jeune Création in Hyères. He went on to gain greater experience working at the ateliers of Dries Van Noten in Antwerp and Angelo Tarlazzi in Paris before launching his own label in 2003.

Christian Wijnants talent was already apparent when his graduate collection won a special prize

 Belgian fashion designer Christian Wijnants
in Paris last month.
Two years later he had won the Swiss Textiles Award. He was also teaching knitwear at the Antwerp Fashion Academy, showing his early fascination and passion for knits that has underpinned his collections along with his grasp and interest in vibrant patterns and prints.

In 2012, the designer also won the European Woolmark Prize for his knitwear. The following year he took out the top award at the 2013 International Woolmark Prize with a jury that included Donatella Versace and Diane von Fürstenberg.

In 2016, the Belgian opened his flagship store in Antwerp designed by Swedish architect Andreas Bozart Fornell. Wijnants usually shows four collections in Paris during the fashion weeks, including two pre-collections and two runway shows on the official calendar. Two years ago, he launched his first shoe collection and since Winter 2019 he has also presented two menswear collections. Today, Christian Wijnants studio is based in Antwerp but his collections are sold all over the world.

Highlights from the Christian Wijnants Autumn/Winter 2020 show in Paris
 A bright blue mesh dress had plenty of sassy movement and was worn with a sleek mohair coat in a matching hue.

Brilliant orange knitted ensemble of jumper and skirt work with socks and Wijnants' new sandals. 

Electric blue suit embellished with a Picassoesque print inspired by the Belgian designer's forays into museums. 

The ample silhouettes of the knitwear was followed through to capacious, double-breasted suits.

Still working with movement and fluidity, the designer also created a series of dresses in mesh covered in long strips of fabric in red, orange and white that kicked out like Twenties Flapper dresses' fringes.

Another beautifully draped dress in an original, abstract print, one of Christine Wijnant's signatures. 

Deep blue knitted top and skirt that would be snug and comfortable to work at home. 

Long, fluid coats were a highlight of the collection in warm, rich colours. 
The finale of the collection held at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris for the Autumn/Winter 2020 season.

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