If there’s one thing we’ve learned from COVID-19, it’s that there’s no place like home.
That’s certainly true for Brandon Maxwell. The New York designer and “Project Runway” judge with a Texas-sized heart spent the last four months back home in Austin, Texas, feeling the love of the women in his family who made him who he is, and welcoming a new addition, nephew Maxwell.
His time away marked a turning point creatively, too, as seen in his polka-dotted, leopard-spotted, flamingo-patterned resort collection. Maxwell has gone positively decorative.
Why don’t you match your dress to your wallpaper, he thought, sitting in the Austin AirBnB he rented from his friend, interior designer Erin Thornton, with whom he also collaborated to design his nephew’s nursery with velvet walls, zebra wallpaper, pompom lampshades and vintage rodeo themed art, a quarantine project that landed them in a couple of shelter mags.
“Erin’s house is so expressive and wild, I wanted a jacket in the fabric of the chair, a skirt like the rug, a silver alligator dress — and she encouraged me to do it,” he said of how his interior surroundings inspired him. “I kept thinking about items that would bring joy.…I’m into the idea of dressing in a bold way.”
Is this also the beginning of a Brandon Maxwell home collection? “I could see it, 100 percent,” said the designer, who in March was named Walmart’s first creative director. (Whether he enters the category with the mass market retailer, or through a collaboration, he’d be in step with the pandemic-accelerated trend of fashion designers entering home, from Christian Siriano and Emily Bode to Balenciaga and Miu Miu.)
For resort, keeping things all in the friends-and-family, he commissioned the collection prints quite literally from wallpaper, from George Venson’s cult Voutsa interiors brand in Los Angeles. “He’s also from Texas and we’ve been friends for years and always wanted to work together,” Maxwell said of the approach, also sure to have that all-important Instagrammable impact.
The result was a departure for the typically streamlined sportswear designer — a celebration of texture and print with a commanding glamour.
This is the first time the designer has worked extensively with prints, and he handled them beautifully, with a green warped polka-dot pattern highlighting every curve on a bias cut long-sleeved gown, and a blue butterfly pattern tailored perfectly to close wing-to-wing on a nipped-waist coat over jeans and heels. (Matching print belts, scarves, bags and heels further underscored Maxwell’s vision for full-tilt Southern belle dressing up come October.)
The combination of a blush pony hair, floral bordered pencil skirt and a crisp white button-down shirt was the stuff of American sportswear dreams, with a nod to Ralph Lauren, while a pink flamingo wallpaper print silk charmeuse hostess dress recalling Slim Aarons grand dames was a chic-at-home stunner.
For hitting the town in parts south or north, a confetti-like silver sequin pencil skirt worn with a floral jersey turtleneck, and a fierce silver croc bustier dress looked party ready. The addition of jersey pieces, including a mixed floral and leopard ruched dress, were good options to broadening the designer’s aesthetic to more sizes and price points.
He also showed a softer side for evening, acknowledging fashion’s current rage for all things stretchy and knit, with a pale pink hourglass knit gown and matching cable knit cape, and a more daring black cable knit cropped cardi and thigh-high slit knit wrap skirt set. Softest of all, perhaps, was a pale flamingo-pink faux fur bathrobe coat that would work over a gown, jeans or nothing at all.
“I love the idea of showing up in that, and saying ‘I’m here!,” Maxwell laughed. “I’ve made a career of event dressing, but the event for me now is just going out in the world — or slipping down to the kitchen for a glass of wine.”
Although Maxwell skipped the fall 2021 season altogether, on the subject of a return to the world of live shows at fashion week, he is optimistic he’ll be back in September. “The plan is to go back if everything is safe and it feels right,” he said. “I’m working on a new collection at a pace that’s right for me.”
He also threw out another wild idea — showing at home. “I would love to do a show in Texas. I could put some flyers up in town, and people would come and I’d feel good about that. That’s how I grew up, with my grandmother doing fashion shows on tables in the convention center.”
Letting himself start to dream, he thought about Dallas, a place where he’d love to have his first store. “Wouldn’t it be great, models coming down a runway outdoors, and everyone sitting watching, eating queso and drinking beer?” he said. “What would I need? A Texas-based travel sponsor. American Airlines, call me!”
As he said, it’s no time for subtlety.