The Designer Behind Your Favorite Red Carpet Gowns Makes a Mean Pair of Pants, Too
The night before Brandon Maxwell’s Fall 2020 show, the designer appeared surprisingly calm. He gave interviews. He laughed. He sipped wine, welcoming models arriving at Milk Studios for the last of their fittings. If he was stressed (and it’s likely he was), he hid it pretty well.
“I've done this a few times now and I think it's never healthy to exhaust yourself before the race starts,” he told InStyle, tucked away in a corner, never too far from all the hustle and bustle of finishing touches and alterations. He and his team had already been in Fashion Week mode for a few days at that point, but the work is never done until that first foot hits the runway. “I used to count down every hour for 24 hours leading up [to a show] and it was dreadful,” the designer admits.
Now, Maxwell is a bit older (although still only 35) and wiser. Over the course of his career, he realized no one can plan for every little thing. Sometimes, you have to just roll with the punches.
“You have successes, you have major failures, you have humanizing moments,” he said. “You can't control everything — and that’s better sometimes. In the last two to three shows, I’ve found that beauty arises from those moments that you don't plan for. The things that have sold the best or have gotten the best reaction are the things that happen in the 11th hour, that you didn't have your hand really tightly on. So, I’ve been kind of trying to open myself to those things, just see what happens. I didn't start this collection with any big plan.”
Rather, this time around, Maxwell moved away from the red carpet ballgowns he’s known for (his dresses have appeared on Dakota Johnson, Mandy Moore, and Lady Gaga) and focused more on wardrobe staples in a muted color palette. Fall 2020 was full of peacoats, corduroy pants, and cozy alpaca knits, and even included recently-launched menswear. Taking us through each item, the designer highlighted some of the stuff that was worth a closer look, like the liquid tortoise dresses, deep chocolate suits, cowboy boots, and enamel fanny packs “with this great silver hardware.”
“There's a bit of hardcore and then there's a bit of soft, like the dresses at the end which were sewn fully by hand on the girls. I think I've either gone very Americana or very evening. I just felt like people should have a beanie or a backpack.”
Maxwell said he began planning his Fall 2020 collection in August, just before his Spring 2020 show, and started with shoes and accessories. He’s well aware that people tend to think of him when it comes to Hollywood glamour, but his plan was to prove that he can do more than that. Much like the outfits that graced the runway, he, too, has many layers.
“Why can't I just make a great pair of pants? When you try new things, I find that the industry is like, ‘No, that's not what we want from you.’ And you have to try it anyway, because it's what you want to do and it's what you love. I've done those shows before that were for everybody else, you know? And I have to say, this one's for me.”
That theme was something that was woven through every part of Maxwell’s show. Whether it was casting models with fun personalities (“Bella Hadid is always incredibly positive, and makes you feel loved and like you matter”) or seating a few of the stars from Netflix’s Cheerin the front row (where they literally cheered for those strutting their stuff), there was something so welcoming and chill about it all, just like Maxwell.
The location of the event, the American Museum of Natural History, was also representative of the designer and the fashion industry as a whole, Maxwell said.
“There’s something quite poetic, in a weird way, about showing there and having always dreamed of showing there,” he told us, noting that he first wanted to have a fashion show there at the beginning of his career but was denied. “I'm in an industry where they're like, is [fashion and Fashion Week] extinct? Is it over? That's all you hear — is it over? And, no, it's absolutely not.”
Perhaps, the key is reinvention, and in this case, going back to the basics and the bones of it all, much like the fossils that surrounded the guests.
“I think that my collections at times have been about a lot of things,” said Maxwell. “Maybe it's the red carpet, or evening, or whatever. And the truth of the matter is I love making clothes and I'm going to do that. I'm just going to make clothes. I'm going to show clothes. It's not about the hoopla. It's about knowing how to make a pant.”