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SXSW: Brandon Maxwell Goes Back to His Roots

Brandon Maxwell emerged from the pandemic with a rekindled focus on his brand's DNA, he said at SXSW.

When looking to the future of his brand, Brandon Maxwell looks back.

Onstage at The Wear House at SXSW in conversation with James Fallon, Fairchild Media Group’s editorial director, Maxwell said that among his chief inspirations are his home state of Texas, where the festival is held annually.

“There’s Texas infused in every single thing that I do,” Maxwell said. “Most of my inspiration comes from here. There’s a joy here, everything’s bigger and fun.”

Maxwell’s relationship with fashion started very early on. “I grew up around fashion, my grandmother ran a clothing store and she was a stylist,” he said. “I was around fashion pretty much my whole life.”

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He moved to New York to pursue job opportunities, which ranged from assisting a photographer to assisting a stylist. Then he became a stylist of his own before eventually starting his namesake label.

“When I launched the brand, I had a very small office. I was working as a stylist for the first two-and-a-half, three years of my brand. I did multiple jobs,” he said. “For the first six months when I had that office, I filled the walls, top to bottom, of images I loved as a child, and reference images I continue to use in my own work.”

Though Maxwell’s vision has evolved, he said his most recent collection was a welcome return to his brand’s roots.

“I was always rooted in minimal tailoring: a very strong silhouette and not much color. When you look at my first couple of collections, they were primarily black and white,” he said. “If you had become familiar with my brand in 2019 or 2020, there was so much happening in my life and you have less time to focus. The collections became more colorful, but the brand DNA is those earlier collections. In fact, most of the pieces [in the fall 2023 collection] are remakes of what my earlier collections were, just in different fabrications.”

Though Maxwell’s career reached an apex just before the pandemic, he acknowledged that he benefited from coronavirus-induced solitude.

He said that “2019 was probably my biggest career year — I was on the covers of magazines, I won my second CFDA [award], I started being on television. Looking back, now that I’ve had some time away from that, although I had dreamed of it, it was really fear-inducing for me and filled with a lot of anxiety.

“We all had to lock ourselves in the house, and although that was an absolutely terrible time with so much pain in the world, it felt for me like almost a relief that I could stop and reprioritize what my life was and how I wanted to move forward,” he continued.

Part of that moving forward was taking on the role of creative director for Walmart’s Free Assembly and Scoop fashion brands. It was a move that surprised some in the fashion world, but Maxwell said he has learned a great deal from working with the world’s largest retailer. He said his family always shopped at Walmart when he was growing up, and he takes pride in being able to dress a large part of America in affordable fashion.

Maxwell recounted how, when he started his career as a designer, he made a bucket list of five items. “Working with Walmart was one of them,” he said, adding that he has completed four of the five.

The fifth? “Having a child and I don’t think that is going to happen now,” he admitted to laughter from the audience.

And though Maxwell only recently started taking his brand back to the basics, he doesn’t credit that to the pandemic. “I don’t think that [the pandemic] changed my aesthetic so much as it changed my priorities,” he said. “It made clear for me again all the things that can happen, and that you’re fortunate enough to have a career I feel very blessed to have. Ultimately, what I’m really here to do is to make clothes, and all the other stuff is just stuff.”