Anthony Maxwell is preparing to release one of the most groundbreaking collections of his career. The designer recently finalized a licensing deal with Martha Stewart and QVC to design hats for Stewart’s line, as well as his own. Getting here wasn’t easy. Maxwell had to ward off naysayers, “Certain people were coming to me and saying, ‘You are not a multi-million-dollar company, you’re not on that level yet.’” Luckily, he was able to trust his intuition and block out his haters. A vital life skill that helped him navigate an industry that isn’t always so kind to designers of color.
Those hurdles aren’t any different than the ones he initially faced when studying millinery in fashion school. Students and even professors resented his natural talent for designing headgear.
“I remember taking my first class and it just came really naturally to me. It wasn’t an issue of arrogance. When I’m designing something, I do it because I see the vision, and when other talented people come along, we’re collaborating to create a phenomenon in a fashion spread. I think that made other students very upset with me.”
Though Maxwell always knew he wanted to design hats for the major magazines and stores like Bergdoff Goodman and Vogue, he originally started as a social worker. It was his mother’s generous attitude that inspired him to pursue a degree in social work in tandem with his fashion major. Maxwell fondly remembers his childhood home in Savannah, Georgia, being filled with energetic cousins and neighborhood kids.
“The value of giving and helping your community was instilled in me from an early age. Social work just seemed like a natural next step, and the way I saw it, if the fashion thing didn’t work out, I'd at least have a degree in something.” He appreciates his time as a social worker for allowing him to serve his community, but admits the job was emotionally exhausting, and was relieved when his fashion career took off.
Maxwell’s transition from social work to fashion was seamless. But, in an age where folks constantly compare themselves to others on social media, one might be apprehensive about nurturing a new interest or skill, out of fear they won’t succeed. That anxious feeling is natural, but you can’t let fear get in the way of doing what truly makes you happy. Maxwell thinks there’s no time like the present, “Life is short, so if you really want to do something you need to get on it! Don’t waste time doubting yourself or thinking you don’t have something to offer. If your body allows for it, do it!”
And when Maxwell says do it, he really means anything, the milliner dreams of one day hitting a dance move commonly seen on the hit show, “Pose.”
“I told my 12-year-old niece, she’s a dancer, that I always wanted to do a death drop, and she looked at me like I was crazy [laughs]! I said don't look at me like that! It’s my dream, but I guess she was thinking oh honey that death drop might not be so lucrative for you, baby”
Taking a leap of faith is what got Maxwell where he is today. His resourcefulness and forward demeanor eventually lead him to meeting one of his biggest supporters: Andre Leon Talley. Maxwell was standing on 14th and 9th when he noticed the fashion legend standing in front of him. He greeted him with a confident “How you doin?!” and began telling Talley about his craft. He thought the interaction wouldn’t amount to anything, but five years later, they ran into each other again at a Church in Harlem. This time Leon approached him, “Oh you don’t know how to speak now?!” And everything else fell into place.
“Ever since then, he’s always supported me. He’d come to my shows, and introduced me to important people, like Anna Wintour, and Dian Von Furstenberg. I really appreciated him for standing up and being present for black designers.”
It was on that same street corner where Maxwell met another editor. He gave her the same pitch he gave Andre, and two days later she called him for a feature in Italian Vogue.
“I’m only saying this to tell designers that you can’t be afraid to speak … You never know what opportunities someone could afford you. Especially in New York City.”
When asked about what his accomplishments mean to him, he raved that humbling isn’t even the word. He understands while many designers of color naturally have a gift for fashion and style, “they almost never get a chance to be on those big platforms. That’s why milestones like his are so significant. “We’re so used to being told we’re not good enough.” Maxwell complains, “That is why you have to hold steadfast in who you are and what you do, and know your friends and family were there for you while those who stood in your way fell to the side.”
Author: Thahabu Gordon