Multiple awards, being on television and having the most famous and beautiful women in the world wear your clothing might give some men an air of arrogance. But Longview native fashion designer Brandon Maxwell says he provides the same level of service to every client — from celebrities to the women who walk into his New York City shop.
And don’t think that he hides from his hometown.
“I think one of the keystones of my narrative from the beginning very purposely was to celebrate where I come from,” Maxwell, 35, said Jan. 9 before speaking at Longview Regional Medical Center’s Stars Over Longview luncheon.
The event was held at Maude Cobb Convention Center, the place where his mother once walked the runway as a fashion model and a mile from his grandmother’s womenswear shop where he spent much of his youth.
The list of celebrities who have worn his designs include Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, Meghan Markle and Oprah Winfrey. He also is a judge on the relaunch of “Project Runway,” a Bravo TV series.
“I think that when I started my career, I made a very conscientious effort to constantly talk about where I was from because I believe it’s those experiences that shape who I am and they inform every decision that I make now,” Maxwell said. “And I really try to work with women in my work now that are very reminiscent of the women that I knew here, and I try to approach every situation that I go into — be it a high-profile situation or just any woman in my office — with the same sort of camaraderie and friendship that I did with the women that I knew here, that I still know here.”
Maxwell already was a known name in the world of fashion in 2015 when he launched his luxury women’s ready-to-wear label.
He since has earned the 2016 Woolmark New York Semifinal Prize Award, the 2016 Fashion Group International Rising Star Award for Womenswear, the 2016 Swarovski Award for Womenswear from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the 2019 Texas Medal of Arts Award.
Maxwell knows the greatness that can grow from failure and rejection.
It was his own setbacks that pushed him to success, and he’s quick to point that out to dejected “Project Runway” contestants who suffer a failure or are eliminated from the competition.
“It can be very, very hard, especially, I think for those contestants ... because although I’m not on a TV show now, I do have a lot of cameras looking at me at all moments and judging what I’m doing,” Maxwell said, “and I am empathetic to how that feels and to working under that pressure and under that spotlight, and sometimes that failure is the thing that really pushes you to a place that you never knew that you could go.
“There’s nothing quite like being broken or failing in front of a large group of people like that. It is a very specific moment in one’s life that only few get to have, and it changes you, and you either find your strength or you don’t,” he said. “I think the majority of those people do find their strength in those moments, and that’s what makes you a winner.”
Maxwell was last in his graduating class at Trinity School of Texas, he said, and he didn’t think he was college material. It was his guidance counselor who took him to New York to look at schools, and because of his interest in art and photography, he attended an art school in New York and moved there at age 18.
He called the experience life-changing, but at age 20, he was accepted into and attended St. Edward’s University in Austin.
“Don’t think you have to run from something and that’s going to change your life,” Maxwell told a crowd of more than 1,200 people inside Maude Cobb at the Stars Over Longview event. “I think that I’ve never had a happier time in my life than when I came back to Texas, because I thought that New York was going to change me. That was where I was going to find myself, but I needed to have that failure to find the success.”
On “Project Runway,” eliminations are among the hardest aspects of his role on the show, he said. When he and fellow judge Elaine Welteroth, a journalist, editor and author, joined the show in 2019, eliminations sometimes conjured tears, he said.
“Elaine and I struggled with it a lot. I would cry a lot. It’s hard, but oftentimes I say this a lot: The thing that breaks you the most — the thing that you don’t win — is the thing that can propel you the most in your life and has for me, so it’s bittersweet.”
A question about disagreements among “Project Runway” turned humorous when Maxwell called Welteroth for a FaceTime chat on the subject.
Maxwell said that he probably disagrees the most with Welteroth on the show.
“I think if we disagree the most, it’s only because Brandon is trying to copy Nina” Garcia, Welteroth said. Garcia, editor-in-chief of Elle Magazine, has been part of Project Runway since its first season in 2004.
“I’m like, ‘Brandon, if you don’t stop — think for yourself, Brandon. Come on, Brandon!’ That’s me. That’s me and Brandon, and he’s like, ‘But she’s the editor-in-chief of Elle.’”
Through laughter, Maxwell and Welteroth exchanged “I love you’s” before ending the phone conversation.
“So there’s your answer,” Maxwell said. “Nina and I do sit next to each other, and we have similar sensibilities, I think, so yeah, I don’t think we disagree that much.
“The thing is we watch the runway show and then we go to lunch afterwards — there’s a filming break and they reset the cameras afterwards — and so we really don’t have like big disagreements. Only like once have we had a major disagreement when we had to send someone home, which is terrible … and it’s edited on TV in a way that makes it very much like for TV,” he said, “but what you don’t see on the show a lot is the personal connection we have with the designers and how we sort of continue to be in their life post-show, and I really make that promise to be there.”
The menswear line of Maxwell’s label has grown since launching it about six months ago, he said, and he’s continuing the line in his next show next month. With “Project Runway” taping again, he’s thinking more on how he can speak in public much as he did at Stars Over Longview.
“I think a lot of the shows look like where I’m from, whether people are sitting on the back of a pickup truck or on an ice chest. Everybody is eating a cheeseburger and having a beer, and I’ve enjoyed with the platforms I’ve had with the show or the collections growing being able to speak to wider groups of people like being here (Jan. 9) or speaking somewhere” the night before, he said.
“So I’m really thinking about how to create products and stories that can speak to more than just a select few, so that’s probably what the next year will hold for me.”