PARIS — Belgian luxury fashion house Maison Ullens has named Christian Wijnants artistic director as it gears up for a new phase of expansion.
The Belgian designer, known for his expertise in knitwear, will make his debut for the label with a fall 2023 collection that will be presented to buyers in Brussels from Feb. 1 to 3 and to press during the Paris women’s shows, the brand said in a statement provided exclusively to WWD.
The label, founded in 2009, has worked in the past with designers such as Véronique Leroy, Kim Laursen and Haider Ackermann, but had produced collections with an in-house team for the last two seasons.
Founder Myriam Ullens said she was drawn to Wijnants due to “his generosity in the choice of materials, his softness in his graphisms, his openness to the world, his vision of volumes, his way of working colors, his positive energy which defines so well his general work.”
The house last year named Jérémy Hautin chief operating officer and Jonathan La Morte retail director as it seeks to expand its retail footprint, and hopes to capture attention with its new creative direction.
“I would like to take Maison Ullens even further in terms of image. To be able to offer even more versatile, more accessorized, more colorful silhouettes in order to create a new dynamic, a new energy while respecting our basic DNA,” Ullens explained.
“I also wanted to reinforce our Belgian roots and work with a designer capable of interpreting them through future collections,” she added. “We are constantly evolving in terms of materials and colors, but also in terms of volumes and attitude we wish to offer to the woman of tomorrow. Christian embodies a certain freshness, a new modern and relaxed look, a strong attitude without pretension.”
A graduate of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Art, Wijnants won the Grand Prix at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography in 2001, going on to found his eponymous label in 2003. He subsequently scooped up the ANDAM prize in 2006 and the Woolmark Prize in 2013.
The designer was introduced to Ullens online, and the two immediately bonded over their shared design ethos. Maison Ullens bills its clothing as “wearable luxury” for globe-trotters.
“I love these kinds of brands which are timeless, brands that don’t necessarily follow trends, that make these beautiful pieces that you just want to wear all year long, for many, many years,” Wijnants said.
“What I want to bring to that story is maybe a little bit more depth, to have not only essentials and classics season after season, to have not only a color palette that is very muted and subtle, but to bring each season as well a new story,” he added.
Wijnants also believes the brand does not fully reflect the personality of its founder.
An entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector, Ullens and her husband, Baron Guy Ullens, founded the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, as well as the Ullens School in Nepal. She also initiated the Mimi Foundation, dedicated to helping cancer patients.
“She has a very strong personality, she has a lot of ideas, she has a sense of humor, she has a lot of different interests, from traveling to art, and I think maybe the brand so far was a little bit too shy about all those ideas,” Wijnants said.
His first collection was inspired by the wildlife and wide open spaces of Wyoming, with materials including shearling, leather, cashmere and wool denim, and a palette with pops of yellow, orange and green.
“It’s almost a romantic idea because I’m living in a city and I always long for nature, so for me, it was just trying to find a place on earth somewhere where the nature would be still at a quite raw stage,” the designer said.
Knitwear makes up around 75 percent of the offer, he said. In addition to the brand’s signature double-faced knits, some of the leather and shearling outerwear is reversible. Wijnants said he was interested in working with rugged and crinkly textures, like the silk and polyamide blend he used for tops.
His passion for knits goes all the way back to his teens, when he discovered an old knitting machine in the basement of his parents’ house.
“Even after 20 years, I’m still not bored of it and you can always discover new techniques, new ideas and develop a lot of stuff. I really have this passion for that technique, and that’s why it was quite unique to find a brand that also shares the same passion. That’s why I think it’s a very good click between our two houses,” he said.
Wijnants will produce two collections a year for Maison Ullens, which has stores in Paris, New York City and Aspen, Colorado. As reported, the brand is ramping up its presence in the U.S. and the Middle East, and Belgium is also on the wishlist.