Brandon Maxwell Celebrates 5 Years in the Biz and His Optimism For Fashion's Future
In five short years, Brandon Maxwell has quickly become a household name. The Project Runway judge, 2019 CFDA womenswear designer of the year, and celebrity stylist turned designer has already dressed some of the most powerful women in the world, including Michelle Obama, Oprah, Lady Gaga, Meghan Markle, and Kerry Washington. In celebration of his five-year anniversary of being in the industry, Brandon released two limited-edition capsule collections. The first, titled The Anniversary Collection, is a celebration of Brandon's Texas roots. You'll find luxe quality hand-crafted denim, heavyweight knits, sweatshirts, and patches of things Brandon holds dear (like his french bulldog, Stella), all inspired by his two biggest influences: the women he admires and the state of Texas.
"The denim collection is really meant to sort of represent kind of where we are now. It's a supersharp price point. It's much more accessible, and that's kind of something I've just been thinking about over the past couple months," Brandon told us when we chatted via Zoom. The second capsule, The Classics Collection II, speaks directly to Brandon's feeling of nostalgia, through the limited-edition reissue of five looks from his first year designing.
Brandon's collections are known for their sophistication and elegance, with timeless designs and impeccable tailoring. Read on for a look at the anniversary collection and for our full conversation, which ranges from mentoring design students to what it's like to dress Oprah and Michelle Obama.
"I think we have to look to the young people, not just young people, but people in general, who've wanted to be in this industry, who haven't had the opportunity or the access. And I think when you let these great creative, wonderful people in, the ideas are just overflowing."
POPSUGAR: With all the changes in the industry right now, what are you most excited about looking at the future of fashion?
Brandon Maxwell: I have spent so much time during the last six months in quarantine just engaging and speaking with young students everywhere, whether that's on Instagram live or going on with the fashion scholarship fund. Really just building some great relationships with students that reach back out to me and show me their collections and ask questions and advice. It's just made me feel really optimistic about all the young people in school and the incredible things that they're doing. I feel really lucky to have met them all. I think we have to look to the young people, not just young people, but people in general, who've wanted to be in this industry, who haven't had the opportunity or the access. And I think when you let these great creative, wonderful people in, the ideas are just overflowing.
"Don't come in thinking that I'm going to tell you what I want you to wear. I want you to make it your own."
PS: What does it mean to have style right now?
BM: When I work with clients or anyone who comes into my office, I tell them, "You need to do it your own way. You need to feel good in your own way. Don't come in thinking that I'm going to tell you what I want you to wear. I want you to make it your own." I've been so excited just to see, living in New York, walking around and seeing what everyone's style is right now. And I've just been seeing some great sort of half mix athleisure, half mixed dress up. During this time where we're just leaning into things that make us feel good. And I think that there maybe was a tendency in times past to dress or to buy things or depend on things to impress other people. And I think that for me, it's always been about personal dressing and feeling good about yourself, and buying it because you love it and you need it. And hopefully this moment in time has reprogrammed us a little bit too. Even when I'm online shopping, I'm looking at what do I really love, what's going to make me happy at this moment. Whether it's a dress up item or a sweatshirt. What's going to bring me joy? I think that's a good thing.
"I remember when I met Mrs. Obama — it's the same thing with Oprah — the ability to make you feel seen in a crowd of people like you're the only person is one of the most powerful gifts I think a person can have."
PS: You've had so many iconic moments working with Michelle Obama or dressing Oprah. What about those experiences stick with you in your career?
BM: The best thing I keep with me from those great, incredible moments, which we're very grateful to have had. What all those women have is a real ability to be able to see someone. I remember when I met Mrs. Obama — it's the same thing with Oprah — the ability to make you feel seen in a crowd of people like you're the only person is one of the most powerful gifts I think a person can have. And to truly give your time in a way that can change someone's life. Those moments when you grow up loving Oprah and idolizing her, for her to go out of her way to shine that light on you is transformative for a person. The same with Mrs. Obama. It can change a person's life and how they see themselves.
Above: Michelle Obama wore this memorable Brandon Maxwell gown while hosting a State Dinner For Singapore's Prime Minister in 2016.
"And obviously Gaga as well, having not only been one of my best friends, but always really pushing the idea to believe in myself and doing things that helped me to feel my best as my friend. Those are transformative things."
PS: Have there been other transformative moments like that?
BM: So many moments throughout the years, I was just talking before about when I dressed Kerry Washington. She did that for me as well. I worked with her during a very insecure time in my life. She made me feel as if I was the most important person when I was making the dress on her. And it helped me to believe in myself. And obviously Gaga as well, having not only been one of my best friends, but always really pushing the idea to believe in myself and doing things that helped me to feel my best as my friend. Those are transformative things.
Above: Lady Gaga arrived at the 2019 Met Gala, celebrating Camp, wearing this dramatic Brandon Maxwell gown — with Brandon at her side.
"Looking at issues that matter to you personally, and advocating for yourself and for your community and issues that matter most to you is really the most fashionable thing that you can do."
PS: I wanted to talk a little bit about the election ahead. As a designer, how has this affected your creative process and what is top of mind at this moment?
BM: I don't think about it during my design process because I'm a designer as a job, but it's not who I am as a person. It doesn't play so much into my work. I've always been very active in encouraging voting — as it is so important. For me it's not to say who you vote for, (but if you know, you know). For me it's about taking the power in your own hands and going out and making the most responsible choice that you can make, which is to vote. I just remember voting for the first time when I was 18 and how incredible that made me feel.
I'm so inspired by so many different young groups of people. There's this one group called OneMillionOfUs that is really encouraging young people to get to know issues, not only at federal level, but in their school system. To really encourage young people, especially voting for their first time to understand how a vote can trickle down and affect their day to day life. I think that that is so important. Looking at issues that matter to you personally, and advocating for yourself and for your community and issues that matter most to you is really the most fashionable thing that you can do. I always feel proud to vote. It's one of the greatest rights that we have, and it's a right, that not everyone had. We cannot just forget that.
Above: Oprah presented at the 2018 CFDA Awards, wearing a dress by the designer.
Meghan Markle wore a Brandon Maxwell look while visiting the National Theater for an event in 2019.
Kerry Washington showed off this Brandon Maxwell creation at HBO's Official 2016 Emmy After Party.