Brandon Maxwell's fashion shows have a reputation in the fashion industry for being a party, a place where you can kick back, have a cocktail and maybe a Shake Shack burger and see models dance down the runway in beautiful clothes. But if the designer's show on Saturday night was markedly different — and it was, a significantly stripped back, intimate affair in place of a party — well, so is he.
Life has a way of changing us as we grow older, and the Covid-19 process certainly sped that along for many folks; but, while the pandemic raged all around, Maxwell was experiencing a much more personal crisis back home in Texas. His beloved grandmother, Louise Johnson — better known as Mammaw — had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and her condition was deteriorating, a brutal reality Maxwell was having a difficult time facing. It was a heavy load he carried into the design process for Fall 2022.
"It was happening at a time I was being forced to process something I really hadn't processed, which is the woman that is responsible for my life, who dreamed of me doing this, at the time that it started doing well-ish, she started not being able to remember it," he said backstage. "You can't move fast enough."
He was already contemplating the future of fashion shows for his brand after his Spring 2022 runway left him with a "hollowness" he'd never experienced following a presentation. The Covid-19 crisis had led to a kind of internal reset long before September, but still, Maxwell decided to move forward with his typical fun, dancing-models runway — and even taking his finale bow, he looked unhappy. "What I was most upset with myself about is that I went back and did that in September when it wasn't in my heart. I love those clothes, but I had a lot that I wanted to say then that I didn't say," he explained.
So in the fall, he took his team to California, where they spent time together going through vintage treasures. Maxwell recognized fabrics and silhouettes from his grandmother's closet; her sister had been a model for Neiman Marcus, and she herself had worked at a boutique in Longview, Texas. That got him thinking about Mammaw for his next collection, which, combined with a tough holiday season, made him want to pay tribute to her with the runway, too.
"If I'm going to go again, it has to be for a reason," he said. "I had already been working in her image for the collection, but I was like, I'm not going to do what I did in September, which is have a show for everybody else. I'm going to do a show for her. If this is the bookend, I want to be happy with it."
Which is how just 100 guests, all of whom had some kind of personal relationship with Maxwell, ended up in a quiet room blanketed by heavy black drapes and lit by sparse spotlights — no pre-show cocktails, no food trucks lined up outside, just a small space for Maxwell to present his latest ideas. The Fall 2022 show opened with a deeply emotional video; it started with Maxwell prompting Siri to read his Wikipedia entry, followed by clips from his brand and a montage of personal home videos and photos with Mammaw.
Models then took the runway, not dancing, but weaving slowly through the aisles — all the better for the audience to appreciate the construction of the clothes, something that has been a focus of Maxwell's of late. "It was back to my roots, in a lot of ways, the clothes; I can see the growth in the inner construction," he said.
The collection is truly one of Maxwell's best. He's proven his talent at making beautiful clothes, but where he thrives is in elevating the everyday to the extraordinary. Basic suede jackets and silk trenches feel all the more special with a double-layered lapel; a cream cable-knit sweater finds stylish new life layered over a ruffled miniskirt and belted at the waist. It's hard to make distressed denim upscale, and yet, he pulls off the hat trick with ease, pairing them with cream corsets and buckled blazers.
Eveningwear is always a standout at any Maxwell show, and the Fall 2022 collection is no different. There's a sculptural quality to the shoulders which still feel soft, despite being quite structured. And while lingerie-inspired bustiers aren't exactly new territory for red carpet-ready gowns, his get an inventive twist with cable knit skirts and feathered accents. Tying in the personal inspiration, the finale gown worn by friend Karlie Kloss featured a print from "a painting lifted from a letter" to his Mammaw from his Pappaw — "a literal valentine."
Even the gestures in the styling, handled by Maxwell himself, channeled a nostalgic romance; a blanket shawl woven through the upper arm, a metallic minaudière clutched at the chest like a well-read book, silver bracelets blooming with large flowers and laced at the wrist like a corsage with velvet ribbon. All of it evoked a woman, real or imagined, that Maxwell clearly knows intimately.
"It was a private conversation with myself that I was trying to have, and I don't think I've ever really done that in my runway," Maxwell said. "I feel that I've grown up a lot and I felt like it was time to put that into my work."
Mammaw has been a crucial part of Maxwell's designs; not only has she appeared in campaigns and walked with him down the runway for his finale bow, it was at her feet that he first learned to sew. To see Maxwell's work is to feel her influence, to feel his heart in every piece he makes is to feel her heart beating right alongside it. It's impossible not to feel his own loss will be ours, too, in a way.
And so it goes that the fires of life have forged a new phase for Maxwell. He's ready to strip away all the noise, not just his own internal self-doubt, but the external forces that say what a fashion brand should or shouldn't be. He isn't worried about becoming a million-dollar brand, he says, to hit certain milestones that may have been important or to become a headline-making figurehead in his own right. He just wants to keep learning and growing in his craft.
"All I have with the time here I have is to do better," Maxwell said. "This is an experience for me to be the best that I can for the women that I make clothes for; this is an educational experience, and I need to keep my head down and do that, and that's what I tried to do tonight."
See the complete Brandon Maxwell Fall 2022 collection in the gallery below: