Brandon Maxwell’s 81-Year-Old Grandmother Is His Fall 2018 Campaign Star

“Yes, I love supermodels, but I also love the women in my family. They were my first supermodels.”

Brandon Maxwell loves supermodels, and supermodels love him. Karlie, Joan, Gigi, Bella, and co. all wear his clothes and walk his shows. Naomi Campbell was his 2016 CFDA date. Iman is a fan. But since launching his line in 2014, Maxwell has been vocal about the fact that his work is a celebration of all women—not just those who cover magazines. His collections are personal, often inspired by what the ladies in his family want or need, so it makes perfect sense that his Fall 2018 campaign stars none other than his 81-year-old grandmother, Louise Johnson.

“She informed who I ultimately became,” said Maxwell of his grandmother (or Mammaw, as he calls her), who has attended every single one of his fashion shows. That’s not just some sappy exaggeration. His grandmother was the buyer for Texas department store Riffs, and his childhood experiences at her side guided him toward fashion design—a fact that became abundantly clear while he was sifting through old videos and photographs to include in the campaign’s touching film (below).  “I grew up literally behind a cash register with her,” said Maxwell, who was raised in Texas. “There’s this archival footage of me at two or three years old in a room of women changing backstage at [one of the department store’s] fashion shows. There are girls around me changing everywhere and I’m staring up at everyone, eating a big cookie. And I’m just like, ‘Well, nothing’s changed. I’m still backstage, eating a big-ass cookie while girls are changing,’” Maxwell laughed. “I realized through this process that there was really no other choice for me. [Fashion] was gonna be it.”

The campaign, which was shot by Maxwell in collaboration with his fiancé, Jessy Price, in 113-degree heat at his grandmother’s Longview, Texas home, features still images of his Mammaw wearing standout Fall looks (including the cashmere hoodie and ball-skirt in which Gigi Hadid closed the show), as well as a film that combines a conversation with his grandmother and vintage footage and snapshots. “Hopefully this will resonate with people, because everyone has a Mammaw,” said Maxwell. “Everyone has somebody in their life who is that person.”

At present, Maxwell is holed up in his Manhattan studio working on his Spring 2019 collection (and on a film that will provide an in-depth glimpse into his process), but he took a break from draping and fittings to speak to FU about the campaign, his Mammaw, and the many ways she’s inspired him. Read on, below.

On his first fashion memory with his grandmother:

“When I was a kid, my grandmother really ingrained in me that, if you love something, and it’s great quality, you should buy all of it—in every color. I’ll never forget her closet. Anyway, there used to be this store called Wieners. It was like a JCPenney and they sold matching top-and-shorts sets for kids and I loved them. She would buy it for me in every color. I remember walking out of the store with so many bags. I’m sure it was like $20 a short set, but I felt so luxe. I just thought, Oh my god, I have 10 shorts sets in so many different colors. I’m obviously the most fashionable person.”

On telling his grandmother that he was launching a fashion line:

“When I told my grandmother I was launching a line, she said the same thing she did when I told her I was gay. She said, “Well, of course you are.” I will never forget telling her I was gay. I said, ‘Mammaw, you know I’m not gonna get married.’ And she was like, ‘Well, of course you are. You’re just gonna get married to a man.’ And I was like, Oh, okay, well, that was easy.

I also got a voicemail from her that plays over the video in our very first campaign. She left me a voicemail saying that the quality in the clothes is so great, the construction is so beautiful, and when I was launching, she told me to really focus on quality and construction.”

On designing for women of all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors:

 The approach that I take whenever I’m thinking about the woman and the design is very democratic. In the beginning, there was some criticism, like, ‘This isn’t for everyone. Does he just love supermodels?’ And I used to get it a lot from my little sister. She’d say, ‘Oh, it’s only for supermodels.’ But no, it’s not. Not every piece is for everyone, because different strokes for different folks, and ultimately, there are runway pieces and there’s ready-to-wear. Yes, I love supermodels, but I also love the women in my family. They were my first supermodels.

“Just in the past couple weeks, I’ve been taking photographs of my younger sisters, shooting them in the clothes that are now hitting stores, because I want other young women out there to look at them and see, ‘Okay, I could wear this.’ I think you have to show a natural moment to kind of say this is the fantasy of who we are, and this is ultimately what we stand for, but I am as American as apple pie. It’s important for me that we are reaching women in the middle of America, of all ages, all sizes, all skin tones, all economic backgrounds. I think that that’s something that you can’t solve overnight, but it’s something you can work towards and it’s a conversation that I’m constantly having with myself.

On his grandmother’s signature look, and how it inspired him.

“She’s pretty relaxed at home—she’s always in the backyard in denim and a t-shirt. And then she’s dressed to the nines when she goes out—she’s always perfect. She’s always got a scarf on, and then she always wears a brooch. She wears a lot of suits, too. After making the campaign, Jessy [Price] said, ‘It’s so crazy looking at these photos of your grandmother when she was 18 or 19 because what she’s wearing is what your first collection looks like. You subconsciously had that in the back of your mind because you’ve been looking at those images your whole life.’ She was always in a power suit and these tight pencil skirts and bodycon things—everything was so clean and classic. As a kid, I obviously wanted to be her when I grew up.

On what his Mammaw has taught him:

I think the biggest way young people can lose themselves in this industry is when so many people infiltrate their studios and their world and tell them what they should do or be. I’ve definitely fallen victim to that a few times. But my grandmother is the type of person that would never do anything that she did not want to do—she always does exactly what she wants to do. I try to carry that with me.

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