It’s a good season to be stylist and fashion designer Brandon Maxwell
Brandon Maxwell talks about his origins in fashion, Hillary Clinton and his friendship with Lady Gaga.
Toward the end of a whirlwind Los Angeles visit, stylist-fashion designer Brandon Maxwell was dining al fresco with his publicist and a close friend at the Chateau Marmont, a couple of days after making a spring appearance at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, which sells his collection of women’s luxury ready-to-wear.
As often is the case, the bestie and longtime stylist of Lady Gaga, whom Maxwell first met in 2010 when he was assistant to Gaga’s former stylist Nicola Formichetti, was dressed in his signature look. Maxwell loves wearing Nike hoodies.
Between eating crudités and taking cigarette breaks, Maxwell, who lives in New York, shared more of his story.
Fashion always has been a part of his life. Maxwell grew up in Longview, Texas, a city with a population of about 82,000. He often spent afternoons after school at his grandmother’s clothing store and he made dresses for his sisters out of bed sheets, belting them with his father’s cummerbunds.
When he was 18, he left Texas for New York to study painting and explore his passion for photography. (He recently photographed his new ad campaign.) He made a brief return to Texas — this time to Austin to finish school — before returning to New York when he was 23 to pursue a fashion career.
Trying to recall details from his younger years, he says: “I’m 31 now. My 20s are long gone.”
Today, Maxwell juggles a career as a stylist and working with his team in New York to create his ready-to-wear collection. His debut collection for spring-summer ’16 was shown last September during New York Fashion Week.
Maxwell’s first two collections have strong architecture and structure and display the skill of a designer who knows the essence of powerful and sexy women and how to dress them with flair. And in the past year, his work has been featured in a few pop-culture moments including Lady Gaga wearing a curvy white pantsuit Maxwell created to the Academy Awards, and the bodysuit-clad Serena Williams in a black cape from Maxwell’s spring-summer ’16 collection in Beyoncé’s “Sorry” video.
Maxwell says he doesn’t sketch the collection in advance but instead drapes fabric on a woman as he goes. “I want it to be a reliable brand that women can come to each season,” says the designer, whose gowns and dresses have been worn by Karlie Kloss, Iman and Kerry Washington.
“Brandon approaches fashion with an attention to detail,” says Roopal Patel, fashion director for Saks. “He’s a rising star. He really knows the female form so well. The pieces speak for themselves. That’s the beauty of great clothing. His collection, I think, holds its own. I’ve never seen such attention to details.”
Despite his sometimes hectic schedule, Maxwell says he doesn’t see himself putting away his styling rack anytime soon. “Basically from December to February, you’re in L.A.,” he says about styling during the awards season.
That included earlier this year when he got Gaga ready for her Grammys tribute to David Bowie, only to rush to catch a flight to a snowy New York in time for his fall ’16 runway show, scheduled for the following day.
“I made it,” he says. “Imagine if I hadn’t. That would have been bad. My parents would have been sitting there very confused.”
So what’s it like working with Gaga? Maxwell says he loves how the singer-actress isn’t afraid to constantly change her style. “It’s been the joy of my life to work with her,” he says.
As he has ventured deeper into the fashion industry this past year, Gaga has remained a true friend and champion of his work, Maxwell says, adding that she encouraged him to create his label and gave him plenty of advice.
“I was able to really do a lot in the past year because of her and so many of my other best friends who really stood behind me,” says Maxwell. “They would have stood behind me if I failed. You can’t really ask for much more than that in life. That’s the best gift you can get.”
Among the honors Maxwell has received this year was being named a finalist for the 2016 LVMH Prize for young designers. In June, he won the Swarovski Award for Womenswear from the Council of Fashion Designers of America during the 2016 CFDA Fashion Awards, and for the occasion, he skipped the hoodie for a tuxedo, and supermodel Naomi Campbell, wearing a custom black gown with a deep-V neckline by Maxwell, was his date.
I want it to be a reliable brand that women can come to each season.
Maxwell isn’t a designer who’s creating a reputation through sex, chasing after the latest trends or starring in a reality show. He’s completely focused on his work, having only taken off a few days at a time, at most, in the past year. He says he’s not into the party scene. To that end, he mentions the details of an evening in L.A. during which he took a nap, something he never does, only to wake up hours later to order spaghetti Bolognese, check his messages and call it a night.
“I’d rather go to bed early and wake up and be prepared for the next day than be out all night long,” Maxwell says.
So what do the next five years look like for the new designer? He says he’s uncertain, adding that he has learned to take life one day at a time. But he mentions three possibilities: opening a brick-and-mortar store, expanding his life to include children, and returning to the Lone Star State one day — perhaps having a house in Austin and flying in and out of New York for business.
“Maybe I’ll have a baby by 45, but 35? I should start thinking about it,” he says. “I have to have someone to leave the Brandon Maxwell brand to. ’Cause my dog is not going to be great in the business department.”
And speaking of Texas, how did growing up there sew together and enrich the life he has today?
“That’s a key part of the story,” Maxwell says on another spring evening before a dinner party to celebrate his spring-summer collection at the Apartment by the Line on Melrose Place, which also carries his collection. (The collection is also sold locally at Atelier 7918 in Newport Beach.)
He says being gay in a conservative Texas city taught him the meaning of true friendship. “It also sort of just pushes you to find out who you are pretty quickly in your life and to know what you believe in and what you stand for,” Maxwell says, adding that his family and close friends have been loving and supportive.
“My friendships were with women and girls growing up,” says Maxwell. “It was like I had brown hair at the time and I was also gay. I always looked at it as a thing that made me special. I’m very glad that I’m gay. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way, really.”
While some old friends drift apart, he remains fond of his early supporters and those girls who let him dress them. Essentially, they were his first muses.
“Those people that stand by you are the ones that get you through,” Maxwell says. “And those same girls who got me by are still sitting at my show today.”
For now, though, it’s back to the grind – to the work he loves. After all, his next collection for spring-summer ’17 and his September runway show await.
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