I heart Antwerp
With a fashion degree from Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts, a first job at Dries Van Noten – one of the designers of the notorious Antwerp Six – and a studio and flagship store in Antwerp, it's not hard to notice that Wijnants is extremely fond of Antwerp. The designer's roots are to be found in Brussels where he was born, but even that would be too restricting a focal point to explore Wijnants' early beginnings. 'I've never felt particularly Belgian, Flemish or Walloon. I'm a mixture of those things', he explains. 'My dad was bilingual, and the French and Dutch speaking parts of Belgium are, in fact, two very different cultures. The upbringing my father gave me became a natural mix of those divergent cultures. My mother on the other side is Swiss, and she raised us with those traditions and values in the back of her mind. Aside from my parents, Brussels in itself is an international and cosmopolitan city with a lot of influences. It's interesting to see how all of those different aspects of my youth changed me and my ideas of the world.'
It wasn't until Antwerp was named as the cultural capital of Europe in 1993 that Wijnants got a taste of fashion and the Antwerp Six during an exhibition. 'I was fourteen or fifteen at the time, and that exhibition made a profound impact on me. I immediately became fascinated by fashion and what you could accomplish with clothing and styling. If you were to ask me where the foundation for my passion and career path lies, it all comes down to Antwerp and the Antwerp Six.' After finding his fascination, it became apparent to Wijnants that Antwerp and its Academy was the place to be for him. Aside from its connection to the Antwerp Six, the creativity and freedom that the Academy offers its students was an alluring aspect. 'It's a unique opportunity to have as much freedom as students are allowed to in Antwerp. Some schools focus more on the technical or business aspects, and that limits the possibility to create an entire collection, early on in your academic career. It's tough though. Not the way of teaching, but the daily confrontations with yourself that come hand in hand with being granted complete creative freedom. Teachers aren't always there to offer solutions, they will point out a problem in your design, and then it's up to you to figure out how to tackle it. It's hard, but it teaches you to keep questioning your every move, to second guess your initial decisions, to stay critical and keep searching for perfection. This way of teaching keeps you on your toes constantly. You need to have the guts to tear everything down, start over, improve yourself and work harder. It's a hard process, but it's an amazing way to learn.'