The designer caught up with PEOPLE to talk all-things style after being named the creative director of Walmart's elevated fashion brands, Free Assembly and Scoop

By Hanna Flanagan
March 19, 2021 04:28 PM
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Brandon Maxwell
Designer Brandon Maxwell
| Credit: Dia Dipasupil/Getty

Brandon Maxwell is soaking up all the red carpet fashion moments of the 2021 awards season while hunkered down in his native Texas amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The fashion designer — who was named creative director of Walmart's elevated fashion brands, Free Assembly and Scoop, on Tuesday — tells PEOPLE he's always believed that "dressing should be for yourself" and seeing celebrities embrace that concept for virtual awards shows is "really exciting."

"Everybody always thinks you need somewhere to go, and I always was like, you can just dress up to go to the kitchen. My mom has videos of me doing that when I was little. I would just want to style my girlfriends and play dress up and stuff," the CFDA Fashion Award winner and Project Runway judge, 36, says. "[Celebrities] aren't going anywhere, but they're still getting ready at home. They look absolutely beautiful and inspiring."

The designer jokes that he also likes getting a peek at award show attendees' massive homes and backyards, which many have used as Instagram photo shoot backdrops in lieu of the traditional red carpet.

Brandon Maxwell
Credit: Walmart

"I'm a big award show watcher. Growing up, awards shows were kind of this thing where I was like, 'Oh, there's a whole world outside of my front door that I have not even seen'," Maxwell continues. "They really allowed me to dream."

Last month, the designer opened up about his love of pop culture — and PEOPLE magazine — in a heartwarming Instagram post after seeing First Lady Dr. Jill Biden wearing one of his designs on the cover of a recent issue.

For President Joe Biden, 78, and his wife's first White House interview since being sworn into office on Jan. 20, Dr. Biden, 68, chose a fuchsia wool crepe midi dress from the American designer (a similar style has sold out on Net-a-Porter). When Maxwell saw the new first lady gracing the cover of PEOPLE in his design, he felt an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia and "gratitude."

joe and jill biden
Credit: Celeste Sloman

"I think everyone has a publication that defined their childhood, and growing up in a small town, pre-internet and social media, PEOPLE was mine," Maxwell wrote on Instagram. "Because it was always available at the check out counter, I would slide a copy into my parent's grocery cart and pour over the pages when I got home, learning about who and what was happening in the world outside my county lines. They always ran great specials on what the stars in Hollywood were wearing, and they mixed those moments with human stories, too. I dreamed a lot about what my life could be like when reading those pages."

Reflecting on the career highlight and what it meant to see the First Lady wear one of his designs, Maxwell tells PEOPLE, "it's an honor."

"I'm so grateful that anybody chooses to wear us, they don't necessarily have to be famous" he explains, "I saw a woman in Austin wearing our red jumpsuit and I was so excited. It's never not thrilling. [My team and I] are just happy to be a small part of any woman's day."

One woman who's supported Maxwell since the inception of his career is Lady Gaga, who hired him as her design director in 2009 before promoting him to lead the creative team at the Haus of Gaga.

Lady Gaga and Brandon Maxwell
Brandon Maxwell and Lady Gaga
| Credit: Gotham/GC Images

Even as the pop star's go-to collaborator and the consulting fashion force behind many of her most iconic looks, Maxwell admits seeing the recent photos of Gaga in-character and wearing fabulous outfits while filming the new movie House of Gucci is just as thrilling for him as it is for the rest of us.

"The hair, the makeup and everything else is just so great. I'm excited. I go to the movie theater, like everybody else to watch movies once or twice and sometimes more. I'm excited to see her in another film," Maxwell says of the pop star, who made her acting debut in 2018's A Star Is Born.

"I love that there are teasers. She is a great actress, so I think it's going to be exciting."