Hollywood’s Hottest Designer Brandon Maxwell on Dressing Meghan Markle, Michelle Obama and More
“My aim is always to provide a woman with a sense of confidence,” says Maxwell, who is also a judge on the new season of Project Runway
If there’s one fashion label that every star wants to get their hands on, it’s Brandon Maxwell.
Maxwell, the 34-year-old behind the brand, only launched his line in 2015. But his elegant silhouettes have quickly become fast favorites for many women in Hollywood, including Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts, Blake Lively and more. “My aim is always to provide a woman with a sense of confidence,” he tells PEOPLE in a new interview on newsstands now.
One person who particularly loves his pieces is Meghan Markle, who has worn his looks on several occasions.
“I have always been attracted to working with women whose primary focus is to leave a world a better place than how they found it,” he tells PEOPLE of dressing the Duchess.
“So I’m always thrilled when I see Meghan Markle wearing a dress of ours, but I also always find out what she was doing and think about another young woman seeing her there,” he says. “It makes me proud to be part of a day where she is making a difference.”
Another one of his favorite celebrity moments was when he dressed Michelle Obama for her appearance at the 2016 State Dinner.
It was “one of the proudest moments of my life,” he says. “To have her wearing that was not about the dress, it was about being a part of someone’s life who has impacted my life and so many other young people’s lives.”
The Longview, Texas native, who first fell in love with clothes while hanging out in a boutique where his grandmother worked, started his career as a stylist.
His eye for design and style, as well as high-powered mentors like British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful, led him to a gig assisting the stylist for Lady Gaga. Soon, he became her lead stylist, a position he remained in for several years.
The designer describes his relationship with Gaga as brother-sister, saying “we are there for each other thick and thin.” He also credits the superstar for teaching him to tap into how women want to feel — and channel that into their fashion choices.
“I don’t have a formal education in making clothes, but I feel like I got a master’s degree as a stylist,” he says. “As a stylist, your number one job is to listen to what the woman you’re working with wants, what she loves about herself, what she doesn’t love about herself, what she wants the world to see and try to give her the best feeling before she walked out the door.”
In fact, when the A Star Is Born actress won her Oscar for Best Original Song, she wore a black ballgown by Maxwell.
Now, he’s stepping into the spotlight himself as the newest judge on Project Runway, which debuts tonight on Bravo. He’s going to be taking the designer seat, following previous designer judges like Michael Kors and Zac Posen. “It’s very inconceivable to me to be here,” he says of the new role.
“Fashion has always been an outlet for me to help people see something in themselves that they didn’t necessarily see before,” he says. “The idea of having a wider audience to reach more women is extremely exciting for me and just makes me very giddy.”
And he is taking his new job “very seriously,” he says.
“I have to be critical as part of my job because the industry is critical,” he says, acknowledging that “I also cry a lot. It’s absolutely, very real. I did not anticipate that part!”
Ultimately, he simply wanted to act as a resource for the next class of design stars.
“A lot of what you’ll see on the show is me giving instances in my life that have been failures, that have not been great. Because I don’t think life is about success. It’s about trying to clear a path for other people to make it less difficult for them. I was someone who had no knowledge of this industry at all, no connections, nothing. I was just waking up every day being like, I will do anything to make it happen.”
“I’m learning every single day,” he continues. “Sometimes you feel like you’re in the struggle for so long. And you just have these moments that are euphoric that bring you back to it.”
And while he is helping designers reach new heights, he also has advice for women everywhere: “Dress for yourself first,” he says, “then for the way you want the world to remember you.”
Project Runway airs on Bravo on Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST.