Earlier today Balenciaga released a virtual reality video game by way of a fall 2021 collection. A collaboration with Unreal Engine, the interactive game is a testament to ingenuity and deep resources at a time in which the pandemic continues to fracture the fashion show system. Where do younger, smaller brands fit into the evolving situation? That question has kept Brandon Maxwell up nights these last several months. Maxwell is a designer who lives and breathes for his runway shows. They’re one of the feel-good moments of New York fashion week, with pre-show drinks, upbeat music, supermodels galore, and a loud cheering section that’s always appreciative when Maxwell brings his studio team out with him for a bow. All that was off the table, so what to do?
“Truthfully,” Maxwell said over Zoom, “it was a very hard year. “There was a lot of taking stock of the past and wondering where my life was going.” The video he made acknowledges his struggle. At the start, it’s a sort of existential dialogue between confusion and hope. Maxwell, who co-directed the video, recreated almost every aspect of a live show, down to the backstage gossip and the PR chief making announcements through a headset. Even without an audience, the models give it their all, vamping and twirling in the spotlights. In the end, Lady Gaga cuts in with “Free Woman,” the mostly black clothes give way to bold primary colors, and hope wins out after all. Shake Shack care packages guaranteed the good vibes for those watching from home.
Maxwell called the project an “act of optimism.” Over the years, he’s graduated from occasion dressing to polished American sportswear. Amidst the ongoing WFH situation he put an emphasis on athleticism this season. “When they’re stepping back into the world, my clients will want comfort, but they’ll also want to look ‘dressed,’” he said. This collection synthesized that state of mind. There were exposed midriffs and elasticized waistbands, tracksuits-turned-evening-looks, and off-the-shoulder dresses in sweatshirting fabric. The shirtdress silhouette that Dr. Jill Biden wore to give a speech at the Democratic National Convention reappeared in a techy black nylon.
“You often don’t know who you’re dancing for,” Maxwell said, problematizing the pace of collections and the challenges facing less well-established businesses like his. If there’s been a plus side to this COVID year for him it’s this: “the connection with who I’m doing it for has gotten deeper.” Along those lines, these clothes will be available for pre-order on brandonmaxwellonline.com toni