Brandon Maxwell and the Hardest Thing About Working on Project Runway
Brandon Maxwell has been very, very hard at work. In addition to designing on his eponymous line, he has a second gig as a judge on the revamped Project Runway. And somehow, he still found time to create four custom looks for Lady Gaga to wear to the Met Gala. The Daily caught him in a rare moment of calm to find out how he makes it all work.
Project Runway is coming to an end! What was the judging experience like?
I didn’t really look at it as judging. I was a stylist for 10 years and this business is less than four years old, so I didn’t go into it thinking that I’m on a level that I’m going to look down and judge them. I really looked at it as peer-to-peer. It was interesting that they approached me because I am so in-the-thick-of-it in my business. I’m sure it seems very glamorous to people, but it really is 99% hard work in your sweatpants just trying to make it happen. It’s so real and raw to me right now. And that’s what I wanted to bring to the table.
Looking at those designers up there is like holding a mirror up to myself. So many times on the show I either cry, or get emotional, or try to speak to them in a way that’s preparatory for what will be following this experience should they win or have any success. By and large, I think if you ask any of them they would say that I’m not there to be mean, and that they could message me and call me for help. That is what that experience was for me.
Did you identify with any of their mistakes? Was there ever a moment where you were like, I’ve been there, I get it.
Oh my god, every episode. If you look at it I say it all the time. It probably doesn’t make it on air. Sometimes it’s like, that is the worst fabric, the worst color, terribly made and I absolutely feel you. I never go in to any situation — certainly not this situation — thinking that I’m any better than these people. We’re all just people just trying to make it work.
What was it like sending people home?
It’s just so heartbreaking because you’re like, I know that the work this week is not representative of who they are as a designer. But it just is what it is.
Is it grueling juggling side projects like Project Runway while working on your collection?
It is. But the producers set it up so well for all of us. We all have full-time jobs. Nina [Garcia] is running a magazine, Christian [Siriano] is running a brand. Elaine [Welteroth] was writing a book and traveling all over the world. Karlie [Kloss] has a full-blown brand. We’re all very busy but our work hours are pretty tame. Also, they have really great trailers for us that our teams are able to work out of. When I’m on break or in hair and makeup, my teams are there and I’m able to work on the collection simultaneously. I was [working as a stylist] while I was launching my collection. Working many jobs at one time is not a foreign idea for me. It’s actually something I’m much more comfortable doing. Down time, for me, is not a healthy thing.
Can you tell me anything about your next collection? What’s on your mood board this season?
I can’t reveal anything about it, but I’m working on pre-collection right now which comes out in two weeks. Everything up until the minute we shoot it is sewing and designs are still being worked out. I’m not really a mood board person. I mostly drape by hand and work through it piece by piece.
How do you push yourself creatively season after season?
I look at the shows as volumes in the overall library of my life. I don’t think any of the collections have been based on a trip that I took somewhere or a movie that I saw. That’s not really how I work. I can look at each one and know really exactly where I was emotionally at that time. I don’t feel I have to push myself creatively so much as I have to lean in to what life has handed to me… to accept whatever’s going on at that time and then try to take a step back at some point and say, what is this here to show me or to teach me? What is the overall message of this moment in my life? And I try to creatively wrap that up in a bow so people can understand it. The clothes are not really thematic themselves. They’re pretty seasonless in their aesthetic. Really, the show is the opportunity for you to say creatively where you’re at.
Is it hard to look back on your career and see these emotional things that are tied into your work?
No. The only way to really survive any life that is slightly public-facing is to just live it out loud. And for better or for worse to be exactly who you are, where you are. That’s how I’ve tried to do everything. I’ll pretty much tell anybody anything. It’s only the past couple of shows I’ve been much more vocal about where I’m at personally. I was scared to do that when I was younger. But you get older and you go through some things, and you realize that being yourself if the best thing. Whether the moment I was making it was sad or beautiful, you look back as they age and you see them in different ways. And that’s the great thing about putting something out there — it takes on a life of its own. You release it from your body and your mind and it creates a life of its own. Its been very therapeutic.
our first Met Gala gown was for Karlie Kloss in 2016. I remember that look transformed over the course of the night. This year you did something similar for Lady Gaga, but bigger. How did you come up with it?
She’s done that quite a bit. Obviously, we’ve had a long working relationship have been best friends for over a decade. There wasn’t a big moment where we sat down and said, “This is it!” When you work together that closely and you’re family for that long, it is a very natural process. We were talking about it as we were on vacation for her birthday. Nobody really embodies camp more than her. I just thought one dress really wouldn’t be able to do this justice.
Was it difficult to change and tweak the outfits in the moment?
I’ve spent many hours under the stage changing her in front of live audiences. She’s changed on live TV. This is very much something that we have a history of doing together. It just felt very natural for us.
What was it like being part of her performance?
If you look at the people around her — it’s Freddie [Aspiras] and Sarah [Tanno] who do her hair and makeup — we’ve worked together for 10 years. Her dancers are like brothers and sisters to her. They’ve been on every tour. And she says that in a film my fiancé made for Vogue about the behind-the-scenes process. We were out there with our family. I felt really comfortable. I felt, this is a place I’ve been before metaphorically and physically. Performing and changing, that’s what we do. Of course, the day leading up, you want to do a good job, so there’s nerves, but as soon as we hit the carpet, I felt alive.