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Finales of Brandon Maxwell shows sometimes have been capped by the Texas-born designer striding proudly down the runway with his grandmother at his side, but that wasn’t possible this season. The woman he calls Mammaw, who inspired Maxwell from his earliest years with her love of fashion, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and now the designer is experiencing the long goodbye known to so many who have lost loved ones to the neurologic disease.
Maxwell’s Fall/Winter 2022 collection, which debuted Saturday evening in the Daryl Roth Theatre in New York’s Union Square, was produced as a tribute to her influence and love. A short film that prefaced the show opened with a close-up of his grandmother’s eyes before segueing into a montage that juxtaposed high-wattage runway moments of models Karlie Kloss, Bella and Gigi Hadid, and Mayowa Nicholas with family photos of Maxwell as a child with his Mammaw, including a look at him in her Longview, Texas, dress boutique. The film finished with her voice, saying simply, “We had a good time, didn’t we.”
That set the stage for an intimate show of just 31 looks, each rooted in Maxwell’s love of blending sharp tailoring with soft details. The front row, which in past seasons has included everyone from Lady Gaga and Tiffany Haddish to Aly Raisman, wasn’t studded with celebrities; instead the focus was on the work. “This is very much back to basics for me,” he explained to The Hollywood Reporter after the show. “I’ve taken detours into different places the past few seasons, based on what I thought people wanted or someone else’s expectations, but a lot of what’s going on in the world right now forced me to be me, and who I am is someone who loves a structured, tailored, forever garment.”
Kloss kicked off that idea wearing a double-lapel trench in winter white, a cable-knit wrap embellished with ostrich feathers under one arm. The wraps and cozy sweaters seen throughout the show were Maxwell’s nod to youthful experiments. “I started playing with silhouette as a child, wrapping my blankets around my siblings and playing with shape, and then emptying out [my grandmother’s] jewelry box so it could be held as a clutch,” he said. “You know, all the things you do as a kid. But there’s a homeyness to that, and I wanted to bring it to the runway and elevate it.”
A lush crew-neck sweater over a voluminous ballgown skirt, a caramel-hued motorcycle jacket paired with a black tulle skirt, and a strapless ivory silk dress with draping that spilled down its front, worn with a structured jacket with stand-up collar, furthered Maxwell’s thoughts on blending glamour with comfort.
A-line dresses and gowns — largely in black or winter white, with one subtle floral print featured near the show’s conclusion — are tailor-made for red-carpet moments, though Maxwell said that wasn’t central in his thoughts.
“For this collection, I was solely focused on the process of just making it,” he said. “Of course, I always hope they’ll find a home with someone who’s happy to wear them. I was a stylist, I love an awards show and red carpets, but that’s not where my head was this season.”
Indeed, among his accessories, suede hobo bags were put on steroids to create an oversized statement piece, and Maxwell offered a reason for their generous size. “The story of this show was about the love of my grandparents,” he said. “Everything needed to be as big as their love, so when the bag came in, I just wanted to make it even bigger.”
“He was born with a great heart,” Pam Woolley, Maxwell’s mother, told THR after the show. “He was my mom’s first grandson, and her love of fashion inspired him in many ways. To watch this was really special, and I know it also brought him a lot of joy.”
Maxwell admitted it wasn’t an easy show for him to produce. “It’s a very private experience, but I had to confront something that I have not been confronting,” he said. “To do that through my work was not only educational, but also therapeutic for me.”
A small card on everyone’s seat noted that a donation was made in each attendee’s name to the Alzheimer’s Association. And for the finale, this time Maxwell grabbed his grandfather, also known as Pappaw, from the front row for that walk. But his Mammaw still got the last word: Moments before, the music concluded and Maxwell’s voice was heard asking her, “What do you want me to remember the most about her relationship?” Her response: “Just remember how much I loved you.”
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