September 20, 2018 500 AM
MARFA-It’s a quintessential narrative, [Artist/Designer/Writer] finds impulse and inspiration in Marfa; they discover a position in limitless receipt of the wealth that is a vast expanse: of light, of time, of space, of and all relative experience that is inhabiting the high desert for a given period of time. It is glaring and palpable– the ceaseless extractions so often left without recharge, though it is restoring to witness when a designer offer more than the image of a political statement “inspired by Mar-fa” on a runway in New York in favor of engaging in a more localized conversation of benefaction with the site that fed their creative needs.
Meet Brandon Maxwell, the 33-year-old Texas native whose small-town Longview upbringing remains an important part of who he is as a fashion designer. Many would say that Maxwell is arguably one of the most celebrated American designers in the business today, with a client list that includes Lady Gaga, the Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle) and Michelle Obama. Worthy of, perhaps an even greater display of appreciation, is the generous donation to Marfa Independent School District that Maxwell instigated and encouraged.
The notion of “generosity” in the fashion industry is becoming somewhat of a standard practice/trend – Balenciaga and its partnership with the World Food Programme, or Gucci’s long-standing charity work with Unicef, for example – though Maxwell’s approach in its seemingly genuine idiosyncratic mode, stemmed from an apparently personal perspective of his experience of spending time in Marfa within a broader context of his history, noting a surprising acknowledgement of the “socio-economic disparity” between the visitors to, and citizens of, the city of Marfa.
“I wasn’t the most talented, I wasn’t the most beautiful, I was not the most well off, I was not the most all of those things, I just worked really hard. And I had a shot because someone believed in me—that’s what this stands for, for me.” Maxwell is now paying it forward— and according to the designer’s twitter “giving back is the most fashionable thing we can do”.
After attending Saint Edwards University in Austin, he moved to New York City, where he began assisting stylists—among them Nicola Formichetti. It was in 2015 that he presented his first collection, now, three years later; he appears to have found himself again, in part due to a one-month self-imposed residency he and his team underwent in Mar-fa, in March of this year. Far away from the hustle of New York, his residency provided for a much clearer understanding of what drove this millennial-minded designer to start creating collections in the first place.
“What I found here was a part of myself that was maybe missing for a while.” Maxwell told Paper Magazine, due in part to Marfa’s “seemingly limitless space”.
“In seeking space”, he notes, “I found expansion”.
With the insoluble amount of pressure placed on designers today, many tend to succumb and fall downside to their god-like status. Artists and designers are often led to believe that any sign of stopping (even for rest and recovery) will endanger their livelihood, but as Maxwell demonstrates, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“When you take time away, you realize how a lot of what you focus on in this world doesn’t actually matter at all,” a fact he wouldn’t have realized had it not been for his residency in Marfa where he not only sought to slow down his creative process and attempt at working in novel and different ways, but to create his spring/ summer ’19 collection, a doting homage to our Lone Star State.
His fiancé and a college friend created a 32-minute film about his experience in Marfa called Back to Dust, available for view on Maxwell’s website. The short film contains all the classic “American” tropes, the story of an outsider kid who grew up in small town Texas, draping his friends with sheets, who went to art school and then moved to New York. In it, Maxwell pays acknowledgement to Lady Bird Johnson and Houston legend Lynn Wyatt, whom he calls “the ultimate,” for inspiring the collection. Maxwell grew up enamored by the glamorous women that passed through the clothing boutique, Riff’s (Longview’s now-gone version of Neiman Marcus that caters to East Texas’ oil-rich clientele) where his grandmother was buyer and manager and where Brandon spent his after-school hours. “That’s where my formative experiences came to be,” he told the Dallas News.
In a telling comment on the current state of our country, while Maxwell was in Texas, he was shocked by how underfunded local high schools across the state had become. “When I left [Marfa], I was thinking about how lucky I am to be in this position and to have this opportunity—I met so many young kids in Marfa who are creative and want the opportunity, but maybe don’t have the access to it. It just got me thinking about how much I take it for granted”, said Maxwell.
A call to automaker Kia, a partner on the designer’s show this season and the brand of car in which his mother once drove him to school, led to a substantial gift of $100,000 by Kia to Marfa Independent School District and the donation of a new Kia Telluride Luxury SUV, which was presented as a prop in Maxwell’s SS2019 runway presentation.
“My Mom drove me to school in East Texas in a Kia Sedona, and my adoration for the brand runs deep,” said Maxwell. “When I left Marfa, Texas, where I designed my SS’19 collection, I started talking with Kia. I wanted a partner who could help fill a need in Marfa’s public school system and Kia was looking to create a unique integration for their new Telluride. It was a natural fit as Kia has a long history of philanthropic initiatives that support education. Kia is not just funding necessary technological purchases and educational programming to give the children of Marfa the quality education they deserve, but also providing a vehicle for local teachers’ use. I am honored to collaborate with Kia Motors”.
According to Marfa ISD Superintendent Oscar Aguero, the SUV will be added to the district’s fleet of suburbans and will be used primarily to enable educators and staff to continue professional development and training outside of the tri-county area, namely in Austin and Dallas. Funds from Kia are meant to be used to upgrade technological resources inside the classrooms and to, primarily, enhance MISD’s advanced academic programs designed to provide rigorous and focused courses of study emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This includes bolstering Marfa’s already active robotics, welding, computer science and engineering programs. MISD has yet to officially sit down and create a plan of specific allocation, though a committee has been created with the purposes of steering the funding.
“We are grateful for the generosity,” said Aguero. “These donations will do so much for our school system, our students, and the Marfa community – Thank you Brandon and Kia!”