Designer Brandon Maxwell is no stranger to seeing celebrities in his designs. After all, he was Lady Gaga’s stylist for years before launching his namesake label to much fanfare in 2015. Since then, he’s dressed pretty much every Hollywood heavyweight, including Oprah, Karlie Kloss, Viola Davis, Reese Witherspoon, and Jane Fonda.
But that doesn’t mean he’s jaded by the experience of dressing the most famous women in the world. Take, for example, Meghan Markle, who wore a canary-yellow dress to the Youth Challenge Reception on July 5. The look drew comparisons to the yellow frock that Amal Clooney wore to Markle’s wedding — but it was also notable for being the first time the Duchess of Sussex has worn a design by a male American designer to a public event.
Needless to say, this New York-based designer seems to be having a pretty good summer. Following last week’s impressive sartorial coup, he was named a semifinalist for the Woolmark Prize, which was announced at a luncheon in Manhattan on Thursday. He shares that accolade with Colovos, Willy Chavarria, and Albus Lumen, who will all receive a generous prize of $52,000 and go on to compete in the global finals, held in London in February 2019.
Here, Maxwell tells Yahoo Lifestyle more about dressing the newest member of the royal family, turning to Instagram as a form of therapy, and, of course, using wool in his designs.
Yahoo Lifestyle: Before getting into the Woolmark Prize details, we have to ask all about your recent Meghan Markle moment. Where were you when you found out she was wearing your designs?
Brandon Maxwell: I was walking around H&M with my 18-year-old sister-in-law, and I got a notification on my phone. Later on, my fiancé asked me, “Is this the happiest day of your life?” and I told him it was one of them.
I went home that night to all the nightly shows saying that the dress sold out in 20 minutes, which is such a great, wild feeling to have. But I also know that she’ll go on to be something that’s so important to so many people. To have played a part in just 1 percent of a day in her life — that’s more than I could have ever dreamed of.
So, you’re a big Markle fan?
I’m always proud to dress women who are making a difference in the world, and I think what she stands for is so great. Young women benefit from seeing an educated, hard-working, and talented woman in a public position like that — especially since she is giving back to so many.
I was a lifelong Princess Diana fan. So of course we were obsessed with the royal wedding in my house; we watched every TV show, every documentary — we watched it all. Well, I haven’t watched Suits, because I’m not an episodic person — I just don’t have the time.
The Duchess of Sussex doesn’t usually wear yellow or other overtly bright colors. How did you decide to go with that hue for her?
It was a major color! When the fabric came in, it wasn’t what I expected, but I have to give credit to each woman in my office, because they really championed for that color, and it’s gone on to do so well for us. I work with only women, and I totally trust them on matters like that. The first few seasons, I was designing only in black and white, so it can be hard for me to see how things can come together in color.
In terms of color or style, is there anything else you’d like to see Markle wear?
You know, I’m not someone who’s so obsessed with what she’s wearing all the time, because I think it overshadows what she’s doing. I think any sort of outfit should enhance the beauty of the work that she does — and that’s what we should be focusing on.
Totally. So let’s focus on your work! Tell us about being involved in the Woolmark Prize.
It’s an honor to be a part of it, and everyone involved has been wonderful. Us designers don’t get out of the studios a lot, so it’s nice to get out and meet everyone!
For the prize, we created a true sportswear collection for our client based on our bestselling silhouettes. It’s a lifestyle collection that she can wear to her sports club, sort of a ladies-who-lunch collection. I’m excited to be able to offer something that’s at a lower price point and that’s also machine washable, water resistant, odor resistant, wrinkle-free, and something you can throw in your bag.
Do you work with wool often?
It’s a material I’m not that familiar with. You know, I thought I was allergic to wool, and I didn’t realize that it’s in almost everything. I’ve learned so much about wool in this process and the capabilities and the technicalities.
Something we’ve learned from you, after following your path on Instagram, is just how hard it can be as a designer. In particular, how mentally taxing it can be, putting together a collection that has to be perfect. When did you decide to be so candid with the details you share on your page?
During the first year that my design career was just taking off, I realized it would be very draining and stressful to keep up the charade that everything was perfect. In this industry, people want you to be one thing or the other, and that can be stifling. For me, to get by, I had to make a choice that I was just going to be me — for better or for worse. Some people thought it would be detrimental to my brand, but social media has become a safe space for me. It’s also a good form of therapy, and I don’t have a lot of time to go to a therapist, so I’m grateful for that.
How has the response been from your fans — and your famous friends?
I think I’ve just gotten into my groove on social media. I don’t really use it to sell anything, but to talk about how I’m feeling and listen to what other people are saying. I always get messages from people at 1 a.m., saying, “I was going through this too.” We all feel alone, right? Just because I’m selling clothing in a store doesn’t make me any different than anyone else.