FLA Best Designer Debut: Brandon Maxwell

by Paige Reddinger
brandon maxwell

Stylist-turned-designer Brandon Maxwell has worked with everyone from Edward Enninful and Nicola Formichetti to Inez & Vinoodh and Steven Klein. His most famous collaborator? Close friend Lady Gaga, who is also a steadfast supporter of his new eponymous ready-to-wear collection.

How did you land your first styling gig?
I moved to New York with $10,000. I was eating at my local bodega and living in an apartment an hour outside of the city. I would e-mail every agency and ask them to give me a job. I told them I would sweep the floors if they wanted me to. If they had a stylist that needed a third or even a 10th intern, I wanted to be there. Deborah Afshani finally called and said she need an assistant the next day, and I’m pretty sure I googled “How to be an assistant.” [Laughs] She really taught me a lot of things.

Who else did you work with?
I did ad jobs working for Edward Enninful, who is one of the smartest, kindest, and funniest people. I was just a second assistant with a fanny pack, but I observed a lot about how he treated people. Then I started working full-time with Nicola Formichetti.

How did you make the leap from the world of styling to design?
Inez & Vinoodh were the ones who first told me to do this, and Nicola was really the one who helped me plan everything. He and Gaga sat me down at Milk Studios one September and Nicola said, “You need to start going out on your own in December. Here’s the plan, and here’s how I’ll help you.” And he did. I felt so lucky seeing them three years later at my first show.

Your show at Monkey Bar was very intimate. Will you be able to maintain that kind of atmosphere going forward?
I think so; I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable showing to 400 people. It doesn’t work with my clothes, which are mostly black and white, with a lot of detail.

Any plans to incorporate more color?
I’m going one season at a time at this point. I spend a lot of time making the clothes by hand—draping them, and fitting them on the woman. Black is my favorite color, and the focus is on the trims, details, and construction. I’m a very emotional designer—I create alone, with music, and the colors really reflect how I’m feeling. Maybe next season, I’ll be in a different mentality, and that might be in color.

Where did you learn tailoring?
I did not attend a traditional fashion school. I’ve been working as a stylist now for seven years, and in styling, tailoring and fit is the most important element. I also grew up in a store that my grandmother ran, and I was there every day after school. I spent a lot of years being around women who were fitted for dresses and suits. I’m a Virgo, so I’m a perfectionist. That’s how I’ve always approached the design process.

What was your concept behind the collection?
I always wanted to create a uniform for women at this price point that could be worn 10 or 20 times. My sister is at that age where she’s going to weddings, and for a young working woman, a $1,200 dress should be worn a lot. I’m always thinking, “What’s a little black dress that has something extra?”

What do your family and friends back in Texas think of your success?
They are so excited for me, and they are the reason I do what I do. I’m really proud to be from Texas. My sister is always here with me days before the show, so I get her opinion all the way through.

You’ve started selling at Bergdorf Goodman.
The first woman who came in bought nine pieces! It was the first time I had ever seen the clothes in a store. It was a really exhilarating feeling to see the women buying the clothes. I worked on the tailoring with each of them, because that’s a key component of the brand. Both of my parents were there to see it.

What did you learn about your clients?
When we started, I really wanted to dress everyone from the granddaughter to the grandmother, and that day, we did that. I learned that women just want to feel special when they are shopping;
I hope that our clothes make them feel that way.

You still manage to style. How do you keep up with the stamina that your double career demands?
I have first and foremost a great team. I could never do it without them. I never approach my work like I’m tired and stressed out, because I’ve been dreaming of doing this my whole life. The fact that I am able to go to L.A. for the Grammys and style Lady Gaga, and the next day, do my own show in New York, is all a dream come true!

Do you hope to continue styling and designing?
They both feed my soul in very different ways, and I hope I get to continue to do both.

You are a finalist for the LVMH Prize. What would it mean to you to win?
I started this company with my own money, and then my dad, who is the CEO, invested in the company, and we run it together. What we do in our brand is very expensive—it is done by hand. The LVMH Prize would mean two things for me: Financially, it would mean quite a bit, and to be in the room with all the people I’ve admired my entire life…I would probably fall over and have a heart attack.

What have you learned from styling that you’ve brought into your collection?
I have so many years of experience working with incredible designers and working closely with them on custom pieces; I’ve assisted some of the best editors in the world and met so many incredible people who taught me so much. Those great people helped me get this off the ground. In terms of the aesthetic for the brand, I do love a dramatic moment, which you can see toward the end of my shows.

Who was the first celebrity to wear your clothing?
Gaga, of course. She wore one of my dresses to the Emmys. But Gwyneth Paltrow was also a major moment for me. It happened in the middle of the night when I was in Paris, right after the first collection. She wore one of my designs to Variety’s Power of Women luncheon, which was amazing, because she was a reference for me growing up. Gwyneth’s pink Ralph Lauren gown at the Oscars was engraved in my memory. We actually added that pink in the show—I kept saying, “We need Gwyneth Paltrow pink.” It was so funny and serendipitous when she wore one of my pieces that my whole body was in shock. Since then Reese Witherspoon, Uma Thurman, Kristen Wiig, Iman, Mariah Carey, Kate Hudson, and Zendaya have worn my designs.

Do you have a favorite Hollywood moment?
When I went to the Oscars as Gaga’s date three years ago. She always knew that was my dream. We sat right by Whoopi Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Biel, and Jared Leto. I’ll never forget it.

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