Of all of the Fashion Week debuts over the past few days — of which there has been many — we were so intrigued to see what Brandon Maxwell was concocting that we rushed to get a sneak peak. Despite the nerve-wracking request, Lady Gaga’s 30-year-old fashion director-turned-designer graciously said yes.
Maxwell has been dreaming of becoming a designer since he was a young boy growing up in the small town of Lancaster, Texas (and it was his famous friend who eventually encouraged him to make the jump). As you’ll see here, the clothes reflect his the pride of his home state — think Junior League pageantry meets louche Parisian nightlife. When we met up, he was in the midst of fittings with his team (including jewelry designer Dana Lorenz who contributed the mother of pearl-laden ear cuffs). Three days later, it was show time at the clubby yet intimate eatery Mr. Chow where guess who was sitting front row center. “She’s one of his best friends,” says Maxwell of the star who flew in from filming American Horror Story for the occasion. It was a show worth making the trek for. Filled with lux separates and refined gowns, it was the type of collection that you would expect from someone who had been in the game for a while. Of course, if you ask Maxwell, he’s been preparing for this his whole life.
Here, we chat with him about his rise to the top, devoted friendship with the Lady, and of course the infamous meat dress.
Yahoo Style: Congrats Brandon! I know you have a big family, they must be freaking out.
Brandon Maxwell: Yeah. My dad runs my business so he has come a few times throughout the process. He must have sat here for 14 hours yesterday and just watched the whole time. Both my parents and my stepparents are always incredibly supportive, whatever I wanted to do my entire life. They’re like okay do it, fine. I think there is this thing when you have a creative kid that’s like, ‘How is he going to make money and how is he going to have a real job?’
So you have 43 friends and family members flying in to see your show at Mr. Chow? It’s not that big!
I know. Trust me. It’s not, but I’ve always kind of rolled deep like that. I’ve had the same best friends my whole life. And they go everywhere. And any success or failure for that matter that I have is really theirs as well. It’s nice to have them around.
Can you talk about the line? I know you said it is inspired by “powerful women.” Can you expand on that a little?
I grew up in a small town of sixty thousand people. And the closest store was Neiman’s two hours away. My grandmother sold luxury clothing to women in town. There was a sense that women were making an investment when they came in to buy a dress, they really took their time to pick the one that they knew would last over time.And that’s sort of always been my mentality. I’m a person that likes simple structural things and, in starting this, I knew I always wanted to do something that was offered at a luxury price point that was a luxurious product, but that women could get use out of time after time. I always say that I have created a collection that I feel like I would wear if I was a woman.
Did you study design?
I did not. I studied photography since I was 12 and eventually got a degree in that. But I remember so vividly my mom’s closet with the plastic bags hanging over every gown. I remember the first time I got in trouble for cutting one in half and putting one top with the other I thought it looked better. I remember being in my room cutting it and her being like, What is wrong with you? That was so expensive. And I’m like, But it’s so much better now! You can see the detail is obviously coming from me, my love of that cummerbund coming up and that sort of power suiting and that sort of tight waist and then the flow-y bottom.
It’s weird how I imagined this when I was 10-years-old. It’s heavy on suiting and dresses. I wanted to try in my own way to think about the woman from work to transitioning into having a drink and transitioning into the evening.
On behalf of women, we thank you.
Yeah. [Laughs] I really think that there is nothing wrong with a woman going to work in a great suit that’s a little low cut. For me the women that have always been in my life are so important to me. Every person that has shaped and formed my life has been some sort of smart, powerful woman.
Yeah, totally. Speaking of strong women, has Gaga previewed the collection at all?
Yeah, she just comes in. We Facetime every morning before work, before each of us go to work, which is earlier for her because she has an earlier call time than I do. I only have a handful of best girlfriends in my life and she is one of them.
She’s of course been very involved. She was the one that pushed me to do it. And you learn a lot through these processes. Through this process my core group of friends has stood there through every tear and every laugh and everything that happened. Who better than somebody who has been through these very stressful situations? And obviously the biggest thing about this whole process is not anything other than when you’re a creative person it does take a lot to put your soul out there. I have to really spend a lot of solitary time in the studio by myself creating those shapes and whatever it is. So to have also a friend who on the regular puts her heart and soul and creativity into the world and just sort of opens it up to whatever the reception is, to have someone who understands that has been a huge blessing for me.
What’s more daunting, getting her ready for a tour or prepping for New York Fashion Week?
Neither. They’re both so much fun. With the tour, with her, it’s not really that stressful because you’re also working with your best friend so there’s so many fun moments. And then when the tour comes up and you see the clothes, it’s a really truly magical moment.
That’s good, that means you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Do you still want to style?
Yes. It’s so important for me to make time for both and they both feed my soul equally. I’ve learned so much through styling, it’s such an education. The amount of different type of women that I get to work with and different body types…Also I have obviously my own aesthetic and my collection, but it’s so freeing and fun to be able to go into a different setting and create your wildest dreams. I feel like I can’t do one without the other.
I’m curious; do you ever tire about talking about the meat dress?
I was there and I sewed it together but that really was Nicola [Formichetti], ya know? And again that’s someone that I owe a lot to. He really gave me a job when I had no credentials at all and believed in me.
How did you meet him?
When I moved here, I must have sent my resume out ten 10,000 times, not even joking. And I started working with Deborah Afshani who is an incredible editor. She gave me my first job and internship without having any experience at all and she really, really started everything for me. And once I worked with her for a year she started putting me up for other things and I started doing ad jobs with Edward Enniful, which was a great experience. I was at Dior with Galliano and watching in the back with my fanny pack on.
What year was that?
It must have been 2010. It was the first ad I did with him was the Karlie Kloss one where she’s looking through the shades with the curly hair. I remember seeing her walking in and seeing Pat McGrath there and coming from Longview and reading W my whole life I was like, This is unreal! But I just sat in the back and ran around and did everything I was asked to do and eventually I got a random meeting with Nicola.
And what I love most about him, obviously, is that he really taught me that you can do more than one thing in life. He was designing and styling and doing products and obviously he had made everything on set and did so many beautiful iconic outfits.
And to be encouraging, that’s a big deal.
Yeah, I haven’t really worked with any selfish people. I really have seen every person that I work with continue to support me and that is the true mark of an incredible person and artist. I respect those people so much for that because I would not be in this moment of my life if it wasn’t for them. I hope to be fortunate enough, if I have any success, to be able to do the same thing for somebody else in my office. That would be more important to me than being the biggest designer in the world, you know what I mean? So that’s my goal here.
I’m sure some little monster will come and find you.