Brandon Maxwell just got off a plane from L.A. But before the 32-year-old can even have a glass of sweet tea or marvel at a bit of the artwork at SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, GA, the designer gets right down to work. He’s visiting to speak with the fashion students at one of the most prestigious design universities in the country, and the first thing he says is “Hey, everybody. I just got here from the airport, and I look rough.”
>He doesn’t. But that’s just the kind of totally unfiltered, sometimes self-deprecating way that Maxwell speaks. And perhaps it's part of the secret to his success. Most notably, Maxwell is the longtime stylist and best friend of Lady Gaga, but when he launched his namesake label about a year and a half ago, things really exploded—partially with a Swarovski Award for womenswear and a Daily Front Row fashion award for debut designer. Oh yeah, he’s also responsible for some of the most memorable looks we’ve seen on the red carpet recently, too. Think Kerry Washington at the Emmys, Karlie Kloss at the Met Gala, and Naomie Harris just a few weeks ago. And that’s really the tip of the iceberg.
>So while the students at SCAD listened intently, particularly when it came to his advice on maintaining authenticity in design—“Your ideas are your ideas,” he told them—we swooped in afterward to figure out how he’s been able to collaborate with so many creative women, why they trust him, and the Brandon Maxwell styling advice every women—not just the famous ones—should be listening to.
>See our discussion with Maxwell, below.
>WHO WHAT WEAR: Your next runway show for fashion week is just a few weeks aways. What's new about the upcoming collection we'll see?
>Brandon Maxwell: One: I looked to challenge myself in a way that felt new and exciting, design-wise. And two: My sister is always trying on the clothes and is like “Is this for real women?” Obviously when I started we had a customer [in mind]. But I see amazing women everywhere living in the clothes. I think that’s really helped me. There's an emphasis on more wearable clothes, and I hope I’ve achieved that.
>WWW: What does “real women" mean to you?
>BM: I think about my sister. She’s maybe a size 6. And I’m trying dresses on my girlfriends from home; I see how it fits everyone. Not everyone is looking for an evening gown. Maybe my girlfriends just want a cute little dress that they wear to work. I think the first few seasons it was important to drive home the message of who I am and what I stand for, and it’s okay now to evolve a little.
>WWW: What do you think are the most flattering silhouettes a woman can wear for a formal event? And how do you define flattering?
>BM: It’s different for everyone, that’s really the true answer. I always just try to emphasis the waist. I’m very focused on hitting the waist in the right place. For me, women of all sizes are very beautiful. I grew up with all women of all different shapes and sizes, but it always sort of starts from [the waist]. I’m not someone who likes to throw a lot of fabric on top of a woman—I like to see her. Not in a vulgar way, in a way that she feels proud.
>WWW: So which pieces would you recommend to a woman that will make her feel this way?
>BM: I always say a little black dress is good for everyone—it can be loose-fitting or tight. And one thing that’s always worked for me is a blazer. I remember the first time I made a paycheck that I could buy one nice thing, and I bought a really nice Margiela blazer. I wore that thing thousands of times, it just made me feel really good and strong. It’s a signature in our collection.
>WWW: Naomi Campbell once told Vogue, “I don’t ask Brandon what he’s going to put me in, I trust—and there are very few people I do that with.” Of course, Lady Gaga and you have a longstanding and trusting friendship and creative partnership, too. Why do you think people instill so much trust in you?
>BM: I never really blindly dress anyone. I always know the woman that I’m dressing. I have a sense of who she is, what she’s doing for the world. I just treat everyone like they’re my girlfriends from high school. I don’t want to make dresses where I telling women what to wear. I want to know what they want to feel like, what makes them happy. It has to be a collaborative experience. But to be a true collaboration, I have to get to know them. It’s not a dictatorship.
WWW: With such an emphasis on a personal connection, how do you reach everyone, not just the ones who are working with you one on one?
>BM: I used to be really insecure about the way I talk, which I think can be really honest at times. The first few publicists that I met with were freaked out by my talking, and what I’ve realized is I’m not that ashamed of it at all. It’s not right all the time. Sometimes it doesn’t sound the most educated. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but it’s okay. I’m not trying to be for everyone. The only way I know how to reach a mass audience in this day and age is to be wholly as I am and to be honest.
>WWW: And finally, what’s the real secret to creating an amazing red carpet look?
>BM: I approach it in a very personal way. I worked with Kerry Washington when she was pregnant, and it was truly a beautiful experience for me. The pregnancy glow you see is so infectious.
>The one thing I know about the red carpet—and I’ve done a few myself where I’ve been in the photos—is it’s terrifying. I have such respect for these women who have to get out of the car and have everyone yelling and screaming at them. So I don’t really care if everyone’s ranting and raving about the dress. If she emails me that night and says “I felt great,” that’s best dressed list.
>WWW: So Brandon Maxwell maternity some day?
>BM: Yes, why not?!
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