“I think I’m known as a celebrity stylist,” said Brandon Maxwell, confirming his professional reputation while disputing it. “I don’t live in L.A. I live in New York and I do a lot of editorial. I have one celebrity client.”
But that’s all it takes when the one and only is Lady Gaga. Don’t get him wrong — Maxwell is grateful to Gaga, who let him reshape her look to a relatively more sophisticated degree, particularly over the course of the last year when he put her in Azzedine Alaïa for the Oscars, Valentino and Roberto Cavalli for her lounge singer-esque “Cheek to Cheek” tour with Tony Bennett, and a custom-made silver mermaid gown designed by Maxwell himself for the Grammys. The era of the meat dress belonged to Maxwell’s predecessor and mentor Nicola Formichetti, who Maxwell assisted for a little more than two years.
One day at Milk Studios, Formichetti sat his underling down and told him it was time to move on. Maxwell, a tumbleweed who blew in from east Texas to luck out with the right freelance jobs, braced himself for the harsh reality of self-employment. “I thought, ‘This is going to be interesting. Here we go again,’” he recalled. Formichetti sent him off with a parting gift. “He said, ‘You should take Gaga with you. You guys have been working together for so long,’” recalled Maxwell. “He really helped me a lot. Then Inez [van Lamsweerde] and Vinoodh [Matadin] got me my very first job.”
Maxwell is still a busy stylist — working for Elle and V and Gaga — but as of the spring, he’ll be a designer, too. The Brandon Maxwell collection launches this season with a show Sept. 14 at 9 p.m. at Mr. Chow’s. If Formichetti, who parlayed styling into design positions at Mugler, Uniqlo and now Diesel, taught his protégé anything, it’s that there’s more to life than dressing up girls in other people’s clothes.
Styling is “about giving the client what they want,” Maxwell said. “I love Gaga’s style. She has great personal style, but she’s not me.” He models his aesthetic off “strong, powerful women who use their clothing to get through the day,” he said, mentioning Carine Roitfeld, van Lamsweerde, Jackie Onassis, Princess Diana and his own grandmother, who ran a store in his hometown of Longview, Texas.
The collection is positioned as “American luxury,” with a focus on lean tailoring that’s geared toward eveningwear. There’s sleek suiting with minimal curved details, jumpsuits and a few gowns in three materials — crepe, alligator and suede — in black, ivory and blush. Everything is made in New York. The entry price is $795 for tailored pants and up to $2,600 for jackets.
With no formal training, Maxwell is the first to say he’s not a designer in the technical sense. He learned to fit and pin through styling, and by the look of the clothes, his firsthand experience was as valid as any learned in the classroom. The cuts are elegant, the tailoring taut but feminine.
Maxwell is nervous. “I’m already aware that, being a celebrity stylist, I may not be taken seriously,” he said. But he means business. The venture is entirely self-funded. He has three full-time staff — design and sales — working out of his studio and showroom, located on 35th Street in Manhattan. Giovanni Bianco is consulting on branding. If all goes well, Maxwell has long-term plans. “The goal for me has always been to start a young, true American luxury brand that lives on,” said the 30-year-old, “that my children can have, my grandchildren can have.”