It's pretty rare to see a model smile on the runway. It's even rarer to see one crack up in laughter. But at Brandon Maxwell's spring 2017 runway show at the Russian Tea Room on Tuesday night, Dilone emerged from "backstage" (which was more like a sumptuously gilded lounge further inside the restaurant's two-story Bear Ballroom) and tried to contain a giggly smile as she approached the photographers. Maxwell had told all the models to dance, have a good time, be themselves: do something they hadn't done on the runway before. Some added a few shimmys and shakes; others some full-on twirls, as disco songs filled the room. (The finale was Gloria Gaynor's "First Be a Woman.")
Tuesday only marked Maxwell's third runway show since starting his line this time last year. But a lot has happened in the meantime: he was shortlisted for the 2016 LVMH Prize, won the CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear and has now dressed First Lady Michelle Obama twice — including her current InStyle cover. This is all while maintaining his work as a stylist, for Lady Gaga and other projects, as he reminded me after the show. "I have another job," he said. "Or, other jobs." In fact, Maxwell had a call time early the next morning.
Lady Gaga is a faithful friend and supporter, having attended all his shows and worn his designs at major events including the Oscars, and Tuesday was no exception. In a custom Maxwell design, she indulged all the photographers, hugged members of Maxwell's PR team and enthusiastically shook hands with Linda Fargo's Bergdorf Goodman team. (The department store was an early supporter of Maxwell's collection.) Naomi Campbell, Jourdan Dunn, Edward Enninful, Carine Roitfeld, Stephen Gan, Terry Richardson, Inez and Vinoodh, Steven Klein and Steven Klein's baby rounded out the high-profile fashion names in attendance. Between that crowd and the ballroom's giant mirrors etched with bears and rabbits, stained-glass ceilings, bronze chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling gilded details, I felt like I was on another planet.
But onto the clothes. Maxwell continues to expand his roster of sleek, tailored dresses and separates in soft, solid fabrics: layered bodice and bustier gowns, piped-arm minidresses, a jumpsuit with a cape on the back, flared pants. There was more satin in this collection than in the past, too, in cropped camisoles and voluminous pants. And Maxwell expanded beyond strictly black and white for the first time. The first dozen looks were rendered in an olive green and/or a very soft pink. "I just felt very colorful at that time in my life, when we were choosing fabrics... I kept coming into the office and [thinking] pink and green, so that's what happened," Maxwell told me.
He also showed six looks from his first pre-spring collection, available for pre-order online now and at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Moda Operandi, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus in November. (Prices range from $700 to $6,000.) "I wanted to make sure that the customer had something to transition between seasons and that it also fit in line with each collection when it was merchandised on the shelves," he said, adding that it was designed at the same time as spring and isn't a see-now-buy-now play. "It's just my way of introducing more collections in a way that's comfortable for me creatively, without stopping and starting four times a year." Does that mean he'll add pre-fall next year? "I hope so, we'll see how this goes."
Now that his debut collection has come and gone from the sales floor, Maxwell said he's learning more and more what his customer responds to, adding that sales have been "really good." But it's not always the pieces he expects. "The ones that I spend so many, so many, so many hours on... I think sometimes when I put less thought into it, it maybe does better with the customer," he said. "I'm learning that sometimes I just need to let it go and stand back and say, 'Do I like it?' And that's okay."
I also asked Maxwell about his commitment to diverse model casting, which was clear on this runway and in his first fall ad campaign. He works with casting director James Scully. "I come from a very diverse area, and I think that a woman or a young girl, when she's looking at our collection on the Internet, should be able to see herself represented there," he said. "I don't just ask [the models] to walk and leave; We speak to them and we'll have something to eat and talk. And I think it's important because they're the women that bring your dreams to life and I think it's important that they're not treated like hangers."
Maxwell's approach certainly translated into powerful walks by the models, on whom he relies to imbue his often understated designs with glamour and charm. Whether he's dressing his mother or a supermodel, Maxwell wants his clothing to illuminate his women, not the other way around.
See the spring and pre-spring 2017 Brandon Maxwell runway collection in the gallery below.