Lady Gaga’s arrival at Brandon Maxwell’s autumn/winter show was first heralded by an outbreak of whooping. Those of us in the intimate cavern of Manhattan’s Monkey Bar, on our closely packed chairs and squashed into banquettes, wondered who could be about to descend and appear before us. Or rather: could it be?
Even if you don’t intend to, it’s impossible to enter the Monkey Bar non-dramatically—a staircase, and small room sees to that. And so, when Gaga appeared, red Bowie hair still at maximum wave and volume, in a sharp, fitted Maxwell black trouser suit, the photographers’ flashbulbs naturally went crazy.
And they carried on going crazy as she took her seat directly in front of this reporter.
Maxwell, a longtime collaborator of Lady Gaga’s and who has been credited from moving her on from sensational looks (like that meat dress) to more sumptuous and elegant gowns, had dressed her as David Bowie the night before at the Grammys in Los Angeles.
“He was with me before I went on,” she told a small group of reporters after the presentation. “He was with me when I got off. He dressed me for the rest of the night before he left. He got in the car and came to New York to do his show. I got on a plane right after to meet here. He didn’t drop one ball anywhere. He’s very clear on what he wants, and he’s got that sort of Zen quality about him.”
Gaga led a standing ovation for Maxwell at the end of the presentation, which saw models in a succession of beautiful and dramatic black—and a few white, a few delicious charcoal gray—gowns and trouser suits. If the colors sound conventional, the cut and tailoring of the clothes and the lengths of tops versus skirts or trousers, was anything but predictable, and these various structural mischiefs provided an illuminating showcase of Maxwell’s talents. As he has done with Gaga’s dressing in recent years, this was glamour, a very old notion of glamour, modulated with contemporary fizz and edge.
The most sumptuous of the dresses had layered, scallop-shaped bodices covering breasts and pointed toward the throat. It brought into starkest relief Maxwell’s gift of contrasting the curved and angular: a sharp pencil skirt matched with a luxurious-looking abbreviated cape; a bandeau stretching, rainbow-shaped, over the breasts from the hips married to a full-length evening gown.
Even fashion-familiars—a simple short black dress, a long, white halter-neck gown—had subtle tweaks to take them slightly off-center. When the evening’s most dramatic look—a white, flared, ruffled, ruched trouser suit, its own joyous design waterfall—appeared, Gaga shouted “Nice.” Maxwell himself appeared for a brisk bow after the models’ final parade.
Asked afterward if she would consider becoming a designer herself, Gaga laughed. “Let me just say now I’m quite happy with him [Maxwell] designing for me and designing for other women. The thing is, at the end of the day, I have a real respect for fashion designers, and it is the reason I don’t have my own line and I probably never will.
“If I ever do anything in fashion it’s always going to be as a muse or aesthetic creative. I like to be part of helping artists find themselves and feel good about who they are. I would never, for a second, claim to be a proficient fashion designer.”
Gaga’s active engagement in fashion—appearing in everything from eggs to meat dresses and into the glamorous beyond—had led her to think that “fashion to me is people since they were young or had an epiphany at an older age decide to drape on a bust. When I see Brandon draping, and I see him with his music on and he’s dancing and smoking cigarettes and crying and drawing—it’s beautiful to watch, he’s an artist.
“It’s not for him [about] being famous, or being in fashion. It’s about that he would not survive as a human being if he couldn’t create, and now he just wants to use his voice in the world to give more women beautiful things to wear.”
Gaga said, for her, it was “really important” that she could “rely” on Maxwell, and the other designers she works with. “I can always depend on [Azzedine] Alaïa. I can always rely on Donatella [Versace] to make a beautiful dress. That woman knows how to cut a beautiful dress. I can always depend on Hedi Slimane to make something that is so cool and so driven by lifestyle, artistry, and passion. I can always depend on Alexander McQueen to make me something that will blow my mind.”
Maxwell had discovered why clients depended on him, and he was, said Gaga, “just showing us slowly, like a burlesque dance.”
Gaga said she loved all the looks Maxwell had presented at Monkey Bar.
“I’m really not joking, because I can put any of it on at any time ’cause it’s easy and I feel beautiful. It’s also not slutty—and I know that’s not maybe an elegant fashion word—even though it’s sexy and really elegant. It’s a hard thing to do, when things are so tight and hugging the body, and have to be cut right to look like Audrey Hepburn or Catherine Deneuve or Sophia Loren. That’s the eye that he has. He’s doing, ‘Which icon are you?’”
Though they collaborate closely, Gaga said the designs she wears are all of Maxwell’s conception. “He’s the designer. I’m not going to take credit for any of the designs. This is all him. My role with Brandon is that I’m his friend, and his cheerleader. He’s [been] part of the House of Gaga for many years now. My allegiance to him is through our artistry, and I will always be there to go, ‘Are you OK? How are you feeling? Stay true to yourself.’”
Gaga said she didn’t tend to go to fashion shows, unless she was friendly with the designer, as she is with Maxwell. For her, being interested in fashion isn’t symbolized by being seen at the shows, or how many shows one attends.
“It’s about the relationships you build with artists, and them knowing you support them on the deepest philosophical level about their work and what they’re making.
“When I can go to a show and feel a connection with the artist then watch it and really learn something—this is what profoundly changes me. He is my best friend, but I am able to sit in the audience and just appreciate his art. He does the same for me.”
Gaga was asked what she liked most about Maxwell—their friendship, or his artistry.
“I love them both equally, but they’re not the same. He’s my brother. I could spend all day with him and not talk once about art. And then I could spend a week and talk about nothing else but that. That’s how we are. But it [artistry] is very fiercely what connects us. And I am so proud of him. These girls really rocked it tonight.”
When another reporter began to ask about Gaga’s plans for her wedding dress, the singer interrupted lightly, “No, no, no,” and sailed off into the post-show party—and the flashbulbs started popping all over again.