Stylist-Turned-Designer Brandon Maxwell On His First Season

by Paige Reddinger

During his styling career, Brandon Maxwell has worked with everyone from Edward Enninful and Nicola Formichetti to Inez & Vinoodh and Steven Klein (and, of course, his most famous client and close friend Lady Gaga). With a decade under his belt working with the best, Maxwell broke out his first collection as a designer this September, and those A-listers sat in his front row. The Daily sat down with Maxwell, whose wares are currently on sale at Moda Operandi, to find out how he’s making all of his dreams come true.

Brandon Maxwell, Lady Gaga

Brandon Maxwell, Lady Gaga

You started out as a stylist. How did you land your first gig?
I moved to New York with $10,000, and I knew that wasn’t going to last long. I remember I was eating at my local bodega, at an apartment an hour outside of the city, with quarters that I would carry around in a ziplock bag. I would email every agency and ask them to give me a job. I told them I would do anything. I would sweep the floors if they wanted me to. If they had a stylist that needed a third or even a tenth intern, I wanted to be there. Deborah Afshani finally called and said she needed an assistant the next day, and I’m pretty sure I Googled ‘How to be an assistant’ [laughs]. We just clicked and 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 that sat me down and told me to do this. They gave me my first job when I was going on my own to be a stylist. And Nicola was really the one that sat down with me and helped me plan everything. I remember he sat me down at Milk Studios one September and said, ‘You need to start going out on your own in December. Here’s the plan and here’s what you should do and here’s how I’ll help you.’ And he did. I felt so lucky seeing him three years later at my show.

What kind of woman did you have in mind for your designs?
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 now. For a young working woman, buying a dress for $1,200 or $1,300 should be something they can get a lot of wear out of. I’m always thinking, ‘What’s a little black dress that has something extra?’

Where is it made?
It’s all handmade in New York. Fit and tailoring is very important to me. I’m sensitive about my waistline and I’m just a boy, so I really tried to think about things that would hover around the woman’s body and give the illusion of smaller legs or a higher behind. Then we worked a lot on structure and eventually arrived on using horse hair, which can be crumpled up and will bounce back. There are pockets in everything except for one pair of pants.

What were your dreams for your first collection?
I’ve worked in this industry for close to a decade, so I knew what it would take. I knew that I wanted to be represented by Karla Otto. That was one of my number-one goals. I wanted Manolo [Blahnik] to do the shoes—that was always my dream—and I wanted to be in the top retailers. All of those things have happened, but it wasn’t overnight, for sure.

What was it like showing a collection for the first time?
What was great about the show for me is that it was quite small. I looked out and pretty much everyone that was there I have a personal relationship with, or it’s someone who’s helped me, or if anyone couldn’t be there I heard from them right before or got a phone call.

You had quite a crowd for your first show!
That was what was really interesting with the show. With my schedule and Nicolas’ schedule we are always like ships passing in the night. But right before my show at 7 p.m. he just pops in out of nowhere with a backpack ,and I came out from backstage and there he was talking to the photographers and the lighting people. And then of course, [Lady] Gaga was there looking at the models and trying the clothes on them. Inez & Vinoodh got there early and helped. Alex [Wang] has a busy schedule and he was also able to make time to come, and Steven Klein made time to come. All of those people have been really supportive of me. It really meant a lot that they would go out of their way to come and support me.

Why did this time in your life feel right to launch your business?
Everyone knew it was my dream to do this. I really wanted to wait until I was in the right place to do that, where I could create without limits. I self-funded the business. I’ve been creating outfits for a long time, mostly one-off special things, and it just felt like the right time for me, both in my personal life and my professional life. I had just turned 30 and something happened. I started reflecting on life. I has spent the majority of my 20s flying five days a week for work, at least. There is a comfort and security and something therapeutic for me when I’m in the room by myself with clothes and music, and having a schedule of going in every morning at 7 a.m. and being there until 2 a.m. and being kind of alone and solitary.

Those are your hours every day?
Well, I also have my styling jobs. I have to balance the time and the travel. Sometimes I just turn on the music and I’m in the studio for 18 hours. I’m kind of a loner anyway. For me, it’s not about being the most famous designer or having this crazy life. I just hope that I’m able to continue to create, because that’s what makes me really happy.

What celebrities have worn your clothes so far?
Gaga, of course, Zendaya, Uma Thurman, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Kristen Wiig. I have a lot of friends who are stylists, who have been really supportive. I know sometimes you lend your clothing and it doesn’t work out, but I’m just excited to be an option. I grew up watching awards shows with my mom—that was our thing. I always remembered Gwyneth Paltrow stepping out in that pink Ralph Lauren dress. 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.

You’re from Longview, Texas. What informed your fashion knowledge in the beginning?
It’s funny, because I look back at that time and there really wasn’t a lot of access to what was going on. I mean, I was 17 and looking at colleges and still using a dial-up connection. There was no Instagram or Facebook. But my grandmother was very into fashion. Even in the smallest town in Texas, she has every issue of Vogue and W, so I was always taking notes. I got really into taking fashion photographs. I almost got kicked out of school for doing these provocative shoots with my friends. I just remember reading a lot of fashion magazines and learning who was who and what was what.

What was the most important lesson you learned in the industry?
I knew there were a lot of kids that wanted this, too, and I might not be the most talented one. I knew I had to work really hard. I had to get there two hours early and stay three hours late. I remember every inch I got closer to the city from that initial hourlong ride on the F train.

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