The CultureMap Interview
When television journalist Nieves Zuberbühler married billionaire Julio Mario Santo Domingo III last Halloween, designer Brandon Maxwell created a breathtaking gown made of 250 yards of satin-faced chiffon, with a 10-foot-long train. Then, during the reception, he chopped off the train and sleeves, and later reduced it to a mini-dress as the party continued into the wee hours.
Zuberbühler at first considered changing into a different dress for the reception, but felt comfortable in the gown, so throughout the night "we just kept cutting it and cutting it," Maxwell recalled. "I’m not the type of person who because I made it believes it needs to preserved and put on a mannequin in an air conditioned room. I think fashion should be fun."
With such a refreshing attitude, it's no surprise that the 32-year-old Longview native is fashion's next big thing. Known for tailored draping, monochromatic colors, strategic cutouts, and a lack of embellishment, Maxwell's creations evoke Old Hollywood glamour with a modern edge.
He's had a breakout year, dressing a bevy of style icons, from Lynn Wyatt to Michelle Obama. But it's his friendship with Lady Gaga that has drawn the most attention. Once her stylist, he is now her go-to designer, creating the white gown suit she wore to last year's Oscars and other stylish numbers that give the singer a more more sophisticated look.
When CultureMap caught up with Maxwell when he was in Houston to meet with customers at Saks Fifth Avenue and show his collection for Catwalk for a Cure event a few months ago, he said he would be back to style his good friend for her halftime appearance at Super Bowl LI. And sure enough, there have been reports he has slipped into town to get Gaga ready for her Super moment, although he might be leaving before game day as he is working on his fall 2017 collection that will be shown at New York Fashion Week on February 14.
Asked about the strong connection with Gaga, Maxwell replied, "It’s very simple. We have worked together since we were very young. Both of our careers changed and we’ve grown in that way together. And I think it’s really fantastic to have someone in your life that understands those things as your life changes. I’m putting out a new collection every six months, and the pressure of that can sometimes be a lot, so to have a friend that understands that as well and be helpful through that process.
"We’ve collaborated together for years, so it’s fun. It’s nice to go to a job where you’re also friends with someone and it never feels like work."
During an interview, Maxwell talked about how his life has changed in the past year as he has shot to stardom, why he doesn't believe in embellishment (at least for now), and his biggest fear — watching his own fashion show.
CultureMap: How has your life changed in the past year?
Brandon Maxwell: I don’t know, maybe there are external ways that it's changed, but I keep pretty busy, so I’m not really focused on that. Obviously now I’m doing multiple jobs and different things, so it’s been a lot busier, but it’s been great. I feel very blessed; that’s an understatement. I feel really, really thankful for the things that have happened.
CultureMap: How did that whole East Texas growing up influence your fashion sensibilities or did it?
Maxwell: I don’t know that’s it’s necessarily affected my fashion sensibility because I’m from East Texas. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around the world as well. I think all of those experiences put together, put into the blender, have really affected my fashion sensibility. But I will say that growing up affected my approach to fashion in that I really like to approach it in a very personal way as much as I can with the clients in the stores and the private clients that we have and also with the team with the collection. I really try to take a one-on-one personal approach to everything.
I grew up in a clothing store; my grandmother was a buyer. That world was very familiar to me, so I think that that was naturally ingrained in me to really know how to make the clothes on the woman.
CultureMap: All sorts of notables have worn your designs. Obviously there’s something that appeals to the modern woman.
Maxwell: I never wanted to make clothing that outshines the woman. I think you always want to see the woman first. And maybe as you are speaking to her, you notice really intricate, small details about the dress that you like. But I think that when a woman walks into the room, all focus should be on her and her natural beauty. That’s the way that I’ve approached things by really taking into account the shape of the woman and tailoring. I want to made sure that she’s offered a piece each season that is classic and timeless and that she can wear over and over.
CultureMap: Why have you shied away from embellishment?
Maxwell: Embellishment is not really my thing. That's something that always comes up in design meetings when we are going over fabrics, but I don't think I am ready. There also was not a lot of color in the first few seasons. I felt like it was really important for me to focus on the craftsmanship and the tailoring and the quality. I think you have to do everything in a pace that is comfortable for you personally, whichever designer you are.
CultureMap: Tell me about your glasses, which have become your trademark.
Maxwell: They’re Prada.They don’t make these glasses any more, so I have to get them on eBay. My desk is filled with sunglasses and I just make them into glasses. Shout out to Prada. Somebody make these glasses.
CultureMap: Are you looking forward to fashion week?
Maxwell: I don’t watch the show at all. I live in fear of the show. I love the buildup of the show and the process of the fittings and the castings, I love that really intimate process. But the show itself is — maybe I’ll eventually get over it, but I almost black out and pass out before. I feel like there are so many people who have supported me and I just don’t want to let them down. So the fear of it overtakes you before. I just never have fun that night. I know everyone is drinking and having fun, but not me.