Brandon Maxwell’s peers jockey for jobs in Paris and Milan. The Texas-born designer put Lady Gaga in five different outfits at the 2019 Met Gala and our first lady-to-be Dr. Jill Biden in an emerald green shawl collar coat dress at the Democratic National Convention last August. He’s as eligible as any of his contemporaries for a plum posting in Europe, but to hear Maxwell tell it he’s always wanted a creative director gig closer to home—in Bentonville, Arkansas, to be exact, where Walmart is headquartered. Maxwell is the company’s new creative director for its elevated fashion brands Free Assembly and Scoop.
“This has been something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Maxwell said via a Zoom call from Austin, where he relocated in December to be close to his expecting sister. “You know, when I launched Brandon Maxwell the idea was to make beautiful clothing that made people feel good and this partnership really gives me the opportunity to do that on a larger scale. High quality design that’s accessible to all is something that I feel really strongly about and I think everyone should be able to have access to how fashion can make you feel.”
Maxwell’s fashion makes people feel very good indeed. Few New York shows—back when there were shows—had a more vocal cheering section, and he’s famous for asking members of his team and occasionally his mom or grandma to take a victory lap with him. He spent his youth in his mother’s store, picking up people skills to match his exacting pattern-making, and purpose has been built into his brand since the start. One season he auctioned off show tickets to raise money for his home state, which had been hard hit by Hurricane Harvey; another he convinced his show sponsor to donate goods and funds to the school system in Marfa, where the gap between the locals and the art-loving out-of-towners is extreme.
He said Walmart’s commitment to giving back was part of the new gig’s allure. Their first project as partners is a new line of face masks debuting today, the launch of which coincides with Walmart’s $100,000 donation to DonorsChoose.org, a charity Maxwell selected for its dedication to helping public school teachers get much-needed funding for supplies and experiences. “Education has been really important to my brand—and in my life personally, my sister’s an educator,” the designer said. “It’s certainly been a challenging year for everyone, and educators are no exception. Making clothes that help people to feel their best and also giving back is really the most fashionable thing that we can do.”
Maxwell’s conversations with Walmart began a year and a half ago when a mutual friend set up a lunch between him and Denise Incandela, the company’s executive vice president for apparel and private brands. “We started talking and I expressed—as I had with my friends and family for years—how passionate I felt about what we’ll be doing,” Maxwell said. “By and large you can always get to a Walmart, and to be able to bring fashion to so many different people is what I’ve always wanted to do. I was excited to hear from Denise that passion is a big priority for Walmart, also.” Incandela, for her part, calls Maxwell a “powerhouse.”
Spring 2022 will be Maxwell’s first full season at Walmart, though he said that he’s been able to “influence” the holiday offerings behind the scenes. He’ll design four seasonal collections a year for the trend-driven Scoop brand and the more essentials-oriented Free Assembly. As for his fall 2021 Brandon Maxwell collection, he says that’s coming soon. “My sister’s never missed a moment in my life. She has cheered for me for every single thing, and I wanted to be here for her, just as much as she’s been here for me.” Maxwell decorated her nursery for her while he was in town. What does his sister think of his new job? “It’s not just my sister,” he said, “my core group of friends and family all feel it was the natural choice for me.”