NYFW: Brandon Maxwell Talks Texas Glam and Why He Wanted Bears at His Show

Brandon Maxwell walks the runway at Brandon Maxwell during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at American Museum of Natural History - Getty - H 2020
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Newly minted stars of the hit Netflix doc series 'Cheer' sat in the front row at Maxwell's sharply tailored fall showing at the American Museum of Natural History.

When Brandon Maxwell launched his label in 2015, he devoted an inordinate amount of time to considering the “right way” to build his brand. But no longer. “I’m not going to worry about it anymore. I’m just going to do what feels right for me,” Maxwell said backstage after showing his fall 2020 collection Saturday night at New York’s American Museum of Natural History

That attitude started with the show's location. Maxwell has loved the museum, and particularly the 43 dioramas that comprise its Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals, since he first arrived in New York City at 19 to study painting at Marymount Manhattan College. Sixteen years later, Maxwell got his long-desired wish to set his show amid the displays of jaguars and cougars and Alaska brown bears, with the latter serving as his runway backdrop. “I love those bears – there’s something really powerful about them, and we can always use that sense of power in fashion,” he said. “We’ve been asking to do the show here for four years, and I’m thrilled they finally said yes.” 

Maxwell’s 62-look collection (a sizable show for him) was both rooted in and surrounded by a theme of American spirit, notably in the sportswear focus of his beautifully tailored pieces, from winter-white suits to double-breasted jackets in glen plaids and richly textured trousers in suede or corduroy. The abundance of outerwear, meanwhile, including cropped aviator jackets in chocolate leather, cozy car coats with shearling lapels and lining, and a dramatic navy coat that swept to the floor, are more than wardrobe choices, Maxwell said; they’re meant to represent how much he’s enjoying his current journey. 

And his front row, especially the section near those bears, loved it. Maxwell is among the legion of fans who have embraced Netflix’s Cheer, the documentary series that goes behind the scenes with the champion cheerleading team at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, a small town south of Dallas. Two of the breakout stars of Cheer, Gabi Butler and Lexi Brumback, not only sat in Maxwell’s front row, but they also injected their own trademark spirit into the show, loudly cheering on the models as they entered, causing several to break into smiles, versus the icy-cool expression typically seen on high-fashion runways (Bella Hadid, it should be noted, could not be broken). “They came to rehearsal and taught the models a mat routine,” Maxwell said, adding that his fandom is also personal. “[Director of photography] Erynn Patrick and [story producer] Ashley Watson are friends of mine, and it’s so great to see a show created by people you love do well.” 

That Texas spirit is likewise well known to fans of Maxwell, who was born in Longview and never shies from injecting a bit of Texas flavor into his clothes, typically with subtlety and sophistication, from the Western stitching on a suede shirtdress to the cowboy-influenced knee-high boots worn with many looks. On Saturday night there also was a nod to two elements beloved by stylish ladies of the Lone Star state: bold jewels, here by Kenneth Jay Lane, and color in a selection of dramatic evening looks, including a lime silk ballgown with cutouts and a flowing chiffon gown with an oversize bow at the neck in tomato red, a piece Maxwell designed to appear in the museum’s next exhibition, “The Nature of Color,” which opens March 9. 

Many of the evening looks also should be received well by the ladies of Hollywood. Hadid showed off her abs in a silk crop top and matching ballgown skirt in black, while Maxwell’s take on tuxedo dressing extended to a double-breasted jacket with wide satin lapels paired with a slim skirt with a high slit, as well as a sleeveless deep-V look with shorts under a full, open-front skirt that Jennifer Lopez should put on reserve. A slim black silk-crepe gown with an asymmetrical strapless neckline and cutout looked tailor-made for Lady Gaga, who played an integral role in Maxwell's year, wearing him for her high-profile, multi-change appearance on May’s Met Gala red carpet. “That’s not work; that’s a friendship of 10 years,” Maxwell said of that moment. 

Finally, style watchers can scratch Maxwell’s name off of Sunday night’s list of anticipated designers on the Academy Awards red carpet. “I didn’t do anything; if someone is wearing something of mine, I don’t know about it,” he said on Saturday night. “It will be a low-key night for me and my boyfriend. I’m looking forward to watching all these beautiful women I love, just like everyone else.”