Exactly a year-and-a-half ago, Brandon Maxwell made a huge splash on the fashion scene with a superb debut collection dedicated to the women that inspire him, including Lady Gaga who he styles. Several fashion seasons have passed since, and Maxwell’s transition from a celebrity stylist to a fashion designer is over thanks to his keen sense of feminine shapes and fabrics cut to perfection. In four short seasons since his debut, Maxwell also managed to get a CFDA Swarovski Award for womenswear nomination, and landed on the short list of the 2016 LVMH Prize of Young Fashion Designers. Not too shabby for a 32-year-old.
The young designer swept through Chicago last week for a fashion fete at Neiman Marcus on Michigan Avenue, where he presented his Spring 2017 line. I met up with him right before the event.
Tell me about your Spring 2017 line?
We showed it in September and it’s March now. It was my favorite show out of all of them so far, because first of all it was at a venue that I’d always wanted to show at – the Russian Tea Room – it felt like a bigger show for me than I had ever done before, but it also felt like a very different show. It was the first show that I added more color, and movement, and ease. It was a very loving and free experience creating the collection; I’ve done mostly black and white collections up to that point – and so you’re sort of finding your way and figuring out what your classic colors are and what structured pieces and be translated into more movement and I think we did that well.
How does the Chicago woman fit in that collection?
Well I think that women in Chicago have very discerning taste. Chicago is a bog city and such a different world from where I grew up. I imagined when I meet the women here, it’s what a big city woman is like. It’s just like the women I design for.
It’s less than a couple of years since you joined the design community via a way of styling. How has the transition been?
Super natural, honestly. I feel like so much of styling is fittings, and the fit. And really also you spend so much of your time creating costume dresses for bigger events for your clients. I grew up in a clothing store and I think everything that I’ve done in my careers have gone hand-in-hand, so for me it felt super natural but it kind of just got to a point in my life where I couldn’t wait to do it anymore. It was just a seamless transition.
Where do you want to take the Brandon Maxwell brand?
Everywhere. All over the world. No, of course my goal is to be a global lifestyle brand. I’m very, very, very American so always obviously rooted in America – made in America. And you know all different categories. I’m thinking all day about bags, shoes, accessories, fragrance.
So you want to go all out — accessories, the full scope?
Yes, I can’t wait. Everyone tells me to slow down – I’m ready now.
What are some of the lessons you learned from the first couple of years designing?
How much time do we have? Because I’ve got a lot… I think the biggest lesson that stands out to me is that you have to trust yourself. When your life changes and people are watching for any sort of success, there’re a lot of opinions, and when I look back at my career or things I’ve been unhappy is when I knew I should’ve gone with my gut and I didn’t; that’s a great learning lesson. The biggest thing I learned is that if your heart is telling you to do it, and it’s consistently telling you to do it, then it’s probably what you should do.
So if you have advice for someone like you who kind of wants to move to New York and do their thing – what would you say?
Work very, very, very hard. I wasn’t from the Instagram generation, I’m in my 30s. I didn’t grow up thinking that the smallest amount of work possible could equal the biggest amount of fame possible. My parents have a very strong work ethic — I did any job that would pay me, I showed up early and stayed late, especially for any person that I worked for I respected them and put them first and foremost, and really tried to – and I knew I was really grateful to have any job, because at the time when I was starting I was really not qualified to do anything. So I think it’s just hard work really.
Many in fashion industry — if not all — have been obsessed with your collections. You have gotten rave reviews across the board, really. Walk us through your creative process.
Over the past year I’ve really realized that what makes me the happiest is being alone in a room making the clothes. I’m really blessed for everything else that’s happened, and really happy to do everything else that goes along with it because I really want a business to leave to my phantom children at some point. But really it’s actually all about the work. My happiest times, when I look back so far and reflect on my life – if you can even do that at 32 – have really been when I’m alone with my team in a room late at night with the music blaring and letting my mind sort of spin.
You’re one of the nicest and most humble people I’ve had the pleasure to interview. How do you manage to stay true to yourself? Fashion can be very tricky, there’s a lot of egos in the industry.
I think the way I’ve been able to maintain some normalcy in my life and a sense of who I am is really just my family and friends. I’ve had the same family and friends consistently in my life, and they’re with me through everything. I have very strong parents that remind me every day that they’re still my parents. So nothing really could ever get out of control when my parents are very involved in my life, my siblings are very involved in my life, everybody keeps it very real. I have a lot of siblings, and I’m the oldest, and I wasn’t raised with the mentality that everything is about me all of the time. I think that’s what sometimes can happen in the industry. I have also been in this industry before I started the collection, so I’m acutely aware that what goes up must come down. I know that the same people who I’m meeting on the way up, are the same people I’m going to meet on the way down — nobody stays up for forever. So I think it’s important to be grateful and thankful for what you have and remember that it doesn’t last for forever, and just try to enjoy it while you can. It’s not my intention or goal in my life to be famous and have everyone love me. I have a passion for what I do – it’s such a cheesy thing, but I have a passion for fashion – it’s true. I have a real passion for working with my hands and making things, and great things have come from that.
But I’ve found that every time I go out and get excited about superficial things I always find myself unhappy – my soul feels a little bit dead, if that makes sense. The only thing that makes me super happy, and recharges me is the work, so I just try to focus on that because everything else is just so secondary.