The Vienna-based designer creates sustainable pieces designed to embrace the female body
Who is it? Austrian knitwear designer Christina Seewald has been crocheting and knitting since she was a child. “I was always experimenting with surfaces and making a lot of presents for my parents and relatives,” she says. “I realised that I like to work with materials and use my hands.” Later, she attended a polytechnical school during her adolescence – standard schooling for students in Austria and Germany – where she learned pattern-cutting and sewing.
At age 19, she moved to London to attend Central Saint Martins where she first earned a BA in Textile Design followed by an MA in Fashion for Knitwear. “I think, in the end, the most significant thing [that I learned there] wasn’t the technical skills. It’s about finding who you are and what you want to say with your designs,” she says of her time at the prestigious college.
After her time at Saint Martins, Seewald moved back to her native Austria – Vienna, to be specific – where she launched her namesake label. “I decided to go for it and take the risk and I’m not regretting it,” she says. And rightly so – even before she officially unveiled her debut collection for Spring/Summer 2020, she was scooped by avant-garde retailer SSENSE for an exclusive capsule collection.
Seewald’s pieces are intrinsically related to the female body, and, by proxy, states of femininity. Her Central Saint Martins MA collection, titled ‘Shewee’ (named after the notorious female urination device) dealt with conforming (or not) to ideals of female hygiene. The collection birthed what Seewald calls the “Shewee sleeve”, an appendage with an outsized shoulder shaped like – you guessed it – a Shewee. Her Spring/Summer 2020 follow-up was a reaction to the male gaze, and, in a broader sense, represents Seewald’s sartorial message as a whole: “My knits are really sexy because I think women should be able to feel sexy, to dress sexy, to show parts of their body without being objectified. Women should just be able to wear what they want.”
Why do I want it? While creating pieces for her namesake label, Seewald places the utmost focus on both craftsmanship and sustainability. “In my studio, we practise both ecological and social sustainability,” the designer elaborates. These two concepts, when put into practice, go hand-in-hand for Seewald; when discussing her garments and design practices, she’s unable to speak to one without bringing up the other. “We should still consider the beauty of handmade things,” she says, moments before the conversation turns to sustainability. “I try to be very sustainable but I’m not one of the brands trying to make a big thing out of it. It’s important that every designer nowadays cares about it. We should all take part. It should be a necessity,” she says.
As a starting point, Seewald designs all her fabrics from scratch, which are then produced by a small family-run factory in Italy. As a former textiles student, Seewald places much emphasis on the quality of her materials. “I think if you’re going to knit a garment, it’s important to use good yarn otherwise it’s a waste of time and energy.” Her eco-yarns and eco-jerseys are spun mainly from natural fibres – cashmere, wool, and cotton – or viscose, a fibre made from cellulose. As a means to reduce waste in her studio Seewald keeps and collects all the scraps from her cut-and-sew pieces. “I wanted to make some smaller collections by piecing together all the different leftovers. It’s important that the way we work in the studio is sustainable and not just the clothing itself.”
In the production of her garments, Seewald uses a combination of highly technical and time-honoured techniques. Her knitwear is all fully fashioned, a sustainable knitting technique that not only improves the fit of a piece but eliminates scrap fabric. “With knitwear you can get a fitting shape for a lot of different people because it can stretch and change its shape through wear. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about it,” she says. As for her use of traditional handcraft, Seewald makes sure to integrate hand-crochet into each of her collections – predominantly across lingerie and accessories. “I look up crochet techniques in old books, ” she says. “It’s very important for me to bring back this type of craftsmanship. Everyone crochets a little different, so each garment will be a little bit different. I think that’s beautiful.”
And Seewald does a lot with her knitwear. “Every time I say, ‘I’m a knitwear designer,’ ... it sounds really conservative or boring. Like I’m just hand-knitting some wool jumpers at home. People are astonished with how much you can do with knitwear,” she says. Incredibly complex and meticulously crafted, her pieces combine knife-sharp tailoring, and mix-match yarn tensions to create unique and unconventional pieces. Dresses and T-shirts hug the body, either through fluid draping or series of twists and knots, while chunky knits fall away from it in a sculptural manner. “My knitwear definitely embraces the female body,” she says. “I like to show parts of the body and also cover them. I like playing with the connection between the body and the textile.”
Where can I find it? You can shop a selection of Christina Seewald’s MA collection and Spring/Summer 2020 pieces exclusively at SSENSE. Seewald is also currently in the process of establishing her own online shop, where she’ll sell her signature garments, alongside other exclusive pieces.