Why Celebrity Designer Brandon Maxwell Created A Collection For The Everyday Star

The designer presented a quietly glamorous fall 2019 collection that was inspired by the strength of the women around him — especially his mother

Designer Brandon Maxwell kisses his mother, Pam Woolley, on the runway after his fall-winter 2019 show. Photo / Jonas Gustavsson — The Washington Post

A lot of designers talk about the strong women who inspire them but so often those women are celebrities whose lives seem far removed from the ladies who hustle into the city on a predawn commuter train and stay long after dark because they're committed to seeing the work through.

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Often, designers' inspiration comes from those who live fantasy lives rather than the fantasies of everyday folks. There's a difference. It's one thing to design for a someone who owns her own plane, doesn't have to pay for her ballgowns and has a professional incentive to maintain a sample-size figure.

It's another to create clothes for a gal who simply dreams of a night on the town with her favourite guy and needs a dress that will be relevant for years to come because she's only going to empty her savings account once on a fashion whimsy.

Brandon Maxwell has always been driven by the particular experience of working in his grandmother's dress shop back home in Texas and by his mother's sense of style and her enthusiasm for his creativity. But Maxwell's fall 2019 collection, which he presented Saturday evening in a cosy space carved out of a nook at the Hotel Pennsylvania, amplified that personal connection into something universally familiar. His clothes reflected the quiet focus, the soothing warmth and the timeless grace that make countless women the stars, heroines and linchpins — of their own modest world.

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The idea of making clothes for real women is often nothing but code for making clothes that are dull and practical, not particularly sexy, and without much glamour. That mantra translates as generic black dresses, dutiful blazers and trousers so sturdy they could stand up on their own. Perhaps that's the look no-nonsense women stubbornly think they deserve. You know the type. You give them a compliment and they deflect it. You gift them with an extra pretty blouse and they tuck it away for a special occasion that never comes, even though, frankly, every day that you're alive and healthy is a cause for celebration.

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Fall/Winter 2019 31-33 ??

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But how are these hard-working souls seen through the eyes of those who love them most? Their children see their glow. Their spouses are bowled over by their spark. Their best friends see them in their full exquisiteness. Maxwell sees them, too.

His collection was rooted in reassuring black and white but with flashes of fuchsia and Granny Smith-apple green. There were flowing trousers and draped shirts, neatly tailored sheaths that followed the curves of the body with astounding precision and other dresses notable for their fluid grace.

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When Maxwell debuted his collection in 2015, he was mostly known as Lady Gaga's stylist — the one who helped her move from meat dress to sleek, architectural gown. His work was distinguished by its strong point of view: clean lines, sophisticated, urbane. He quickly racked up trophies in the fashion industry as one in a new generation of designers with a bright future. In 2016, Michelle Obama wore one of his evening gowns at the White House's state dinner in honour of Singapore. He will serve as a judge on the updated version of Bravo's Project Runway. The designer's career is on the upswing.

At the same time, he has also been sorting through challenging personal times, namely his mother's recent breast cancer diagnosis. In an interview with Women's Wear Daily, Maxwell discussed his concern for his mother and his frustration at feeling helpless. The upsetting news and the emotional upheaval had him looking to create a more streamlined collection, he said. The most obvious expression of that was with his restrained colour palette.

He dedicated the season to his mother. "This collection is the physical manifestation of the strength my mom and so many women in my life have shown over the past few months. I am here tonight because of their strength; women who so effortlessly turn the cold concrete of reality into a home," Maxwell wrote in his show notes.

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When he took his bows, Maxwell paused at the top of the runway to greet his mother, Pam Woolley, pulling her to her feet and into an embrace. They walked down the runway together. They were followed by the women who work alongside Maxwell. They were dressed in black — the uniform of the discreet, behind-the-scenes players. Some of them had pin cushions wrapped around their wrists.

They are the stars who inspired a beautiful collection.

— The Washington Post

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