Representing the creative future

Knitwear designer Christina Seewald on the privilege of teamwork

The Austrian designer shares what inspires her work, the values she believes in, and who drives her to aim higher

“Nobody can recreate the same piece,” Christina Seewald says, sitting in a light-flooded room in her apartment in Vienna. What drew her to knitwear is that it allows for ultimate independence. Being in charge of the whole process by creating doubtlessly unique pieces also ticks many of our time’s boxes. An ethical and sustainable approach, the factor of exclusivity, the ability to adapt cuts, colours, and needs – just to name a few.

Her latest collection for her namesake brand is different from any previous one. Imagined and developed during trying times and presented in a video format, it’s her reaction to home office culture and day-to-day loungewear that hasn’t lost the sensual yet sexy appeal her designs are known for. Before delving into her world of brushed cashmere and ripped cotton, what has brought her to where she is today?

Seewald’s AW21/22 collection is all about evaluating ways of transformation within repetition and continuity. Inspired by “Mutations” (1970), a photo series of gestures directed towards an audience highlighting the ambiguity and variety of bodily movements, by German performance artist Klaus Rinke, the garments explore the distortion of structures as well as the playfulness of silhouettes. “Knitwear itself is a repetition of loops. But within that repetition, there are endless options. That relates to the body. It’s all made out of the same material, but it’s differently composed for everyone individually,” Christina explains.

Mix and match reaches its peak through Seewald’s genderless collection. Coming in a soft colour palette of off-white, mauve, and light blue which sometimes taps into darker shades of navy and black, all pieces can be worn in their designated sets or be freely combined. Flared trousers in hand-brushed cashmere are paired with oversized, ripped cotton jumpers with ultralong sleeves or cotton vest tops that are half opaque, half sheer. Fine knit cardigans are worn with roller neck leotards or over a cashmere split top with mesh trousers. Bodycon midi-dresses come with either long sleeves or straps, accentuating the body. Especially the ‘Barbara Dress’, a soft and sexy twist on the LBD, skillfully exposes parts of the body in a way that keeps one’s eye wandering. Panties and trunks made from brushed cashmere act as the perfect undergarments while the looks are uniformly accessorised with pointed kitten heels, leather boots and wedge sandals, fuzzy cashmere socks peeking out.

Similar to her 1970s inspiration, the video for AW21/22 translates a complex idea into simple visuals. The screen split into colour and black-and-white footage, the viewer follows as the camera slowly moves over the models’ bodies highlighting the fluid relationship between them and the clothes they wear. A voice-over explains the Möbius Strip, a non-orientable surface with only one side and one boundary curve, inspired by an essay by Catherine Yang. “We are always moving along the strip, not knowing when the strip switches from one side to the other. This exemplifies the mobility of our identity – it is never stable. We are in a constant process of self-identification.” Listening to the audio, one understands that the yarn behaves similarly to the strip. Following the loops of a knitwear piece, it gradually transitions from the outside to the inside, creating a borderless piece that unites almost seamlessly with the body.

“Limitation is key.” – Christina Seewald

Christina’s brand isn’t new to the video format. AW20 was presented virtually in the form of lo-fi videos shot by the models themselves in their living rooms and bedrooms. Amongst the first ones to release digitally as it coincided with Europe’s first lockdown, pieces were sent to the girls who were given artistic freedom for the creation of the clips. “They had control over how and what they show of themselves. It’s still a quite rare and new approach, but it’s something I enjoyed and definitely want to continue doing,” the designer says.

As challenging as the past year has been, it was an opportunity to learn and grow. What has been the most valuable lesson she learned working as a creative in our current climate? “Limitation is key,” she says. “Sometimes you don’t have everything you need. Nowadays, we’re so limited within space, with materials and production. Even meeting people to network. But you have to make it work and come up with new ideas. You can always find a solution as long as you don’t give up. Even when it’s hard, you have to fight.”

Christina Seewald AS21/22 Photography by Maximilian Semlinger

Every designer in our day and age should be more conscious and sustainable.” – Christina Seewald

Besides the new collection, Christina is planning to relaunch the brand’s website with the potential of adding an online store. When discussing the possibility of opening a physical one she says, “I would rather be behind the scenes.” It’s all about keeping exclusivity by offering recurring designs with unique ones thrown into the mix. An example would be the vest top which reappears in every season in different colours and patterns. “For me, it’s important to create pieces that don’t last for just one season. I don’t design very trendy. I want something timeless that you can take out of your closet five years later and it’s still something you’d wear.” High-quality knitwear is expensive, both in production and price. Hence, sustainability plays a substantial role for Christina in her business.

“I don’t like to stress it too much when speaking about my brand. Mainly because I wholeheartedly believe that it should be a given. Every designer in our day and age should be more conscious and sustainable,” she tells me. The focus is on taking advantage of already existing resources in the form of reusing materials and using deadstock as well as trying to produce as locally as possible. The ‘Carlota Dress’, a tight strap midi-dress in a patchwork-esque pattern, is made from leftovers and cut-offs. The fully-fashioned knitwear the designer makes from scratch form the only exception, generating almost no waste due to being crafted directly into its final shape.a

Christina Seewald AS21/22 Photography by Maximilian Semlinger

When we hear sustainability, we tend to limit it to garment production. But what about social sustainability? Treating a team well and making sure you employ people as a permanent asset to the brand rather than a temporary solution. “It’s not just you in a company,” Christina says. “Everyone is doing their part. Even if it’s your namesake brand, like in my case, there are so many people behind the scenes who you should be grateful for.”

“What I felt was missing was clothing that is inclusive. What you can achieve with knit is that it adapts to whoever wears it.” – Christina Seewald

With her atelier based in Vienna, Seewald is one of the relatively few designers that represent the country. In Austria, fashion is still largely perceived as needing to be grande and avant-garde, yet it’s somehow guarded and conservative compared to other European countries. She wants to change that notion by encouraging people to rethink, especially when it comes to views on femininity. “I want to show that a woman can be sexy and successful at the same time,” she says, adding that the contrast between fragility and strength prevalent in knitwear can be compared to a strong woman’s sensibility. Her team is comprised of all women who take turns trying on pieces to see how it fits on different body types. “What I felt was missing was clothing that is inclusive. What you can achieve with knit is that it adapts to whoever wears it,” she says.

What would her advice be for young creatives who want to enter the industry under such circumstances? “Put your whole heart in. Be aware that it’s not going to be a 9-to-5 job. It’s gonna be your life. Also, go abroad if you can. Get to know different cultures and try to have internships. Staying in your own country won’t benefit you. Lastly, don’t give up too easily. If one person told you ‘no’, it doesn’t mean it will be ‘no’ forever.”

“Having these people around and supporting me, believing in this brand makes me the proudest.” – Chistina Seewald

Some people come into your life unexpectedly. Christina’s studio manager was meant to be in Shanghai, but due to Covid travel restrictions, she returned to Austria and started an internship at the atelier. She ended up offering her a permanent position. It is that kind of serendipity paired with the special connection that the designer has with her team that means the most to her. Awards, shows, and praise only last you for so long. Being surrounded by good people is a privilege not everyone has.

“For me, my proudest moment was when I realised that I have such an amazing team,” Christina shares. “We can achieve even greater things as a group, especially during this awful pandemic. Having these people around and supporting me, believing in this brand makes me the proudest.”