UNDER THE INFLUENCE
As part of our editorial team, FashionScoop.com has brought aboard noted fashion writer, Stephen MacMillan Moser. Love him or loathe him, Moser's writing definitely catches the reader's' attention. He is revered as the take-no-prisoners author of “After a Fashion,” a style column that ran in the Austin Chronicle from 1997-2013. He brought not only a distinct point of view on fashion, but a point of view gained from over four decades of being a fashion designer. "Christian Dior himself, died on October 24, 1957," says Moser, "and I was born on October 25, 1957, within a few hours of Dior's death. As a child, Dior's influence was still everywhere, and I was smitten with it," reveals Moser.
Along with Dior, Moser's earliest influences were watching his mother sew clothes for herself, as well as his older sister Margaret's high-style wardrobe. Then came Barbie. Barbie was a turning point for Moser - the earliest outfits with silk linings, real zippers, buttons with buttonholes, copies of Paris originals...
FAMOUS FOR 15 MINUTES
As a designer, Moser and his company Made In Heaven by Stephen MacMillan Moser, has had some stellar achievements. While in design school in Seattle, in 1987, he entered his first competition and won First Place from a panel of judges that included Ken Downing, Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus. His entry was a Dior-inspired cocktail dress in black velvet and taffeta, harking back to Moser's lifelong obsession with all things Dior. Upon graduation, Moser hightailed it to New York, immediately landing a job in a Madison Avenue couture salon, where he dressed the likes of Beverly Sills, Ivana Trump and Angelica Huston. Toiling with the toile during the day, at night, in his own studio, Moser’s imagination ran wild.
He created a line of couture Christmas stockings and they were snapped up by Bergdorf-Goodman, appearing in their 1991 holiday windows. Bergdorf re-ordered several times, and Moser’s work appeared in Women's Wear Daily (WWD) and W, DNR and many trade magazines. Following up for Fall/Winter 1992-3, Moser, obsessed with antique fabrics (17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries) that he collected voraciously, styled the exquisite fabrics into one-of-a-kind vests for women that laced up the side and back like a corset. Henri Bendel asked for an exclusive on those, and the vests appeared in their Holiday windows. Sold in Bendel’s New Createurs department, Moser’s work was sold alongside Todd Oldham and Issac Mizrahi. He went on to sell to stores such as Felissimo, Frank Stella, Takashimaya, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nordstrom, among others.
After a lengthy, unhappy stint doing only custom work and feeling beaten by New York, Moser took a serious look at himself, and decided that he was floundering in fashion and had no direction. Returning to his beloved Austin in 1999, he had to work, but Austin was a dry, arid fashion-free city. Austin is the city known for its day jobs. The population is overwhelmingly creative, but very few make a living at what they love. But creating with fabric is only one of Moser’s skills. For the past few years, he had been writing, in his inimitable style, pieces for the Austin Chronicle. The Chronicle was running a contest, looking for a romance columnist for the Personals section. Moser took the challenge, writing three romance columns. He submitted them with a cover letter that said, “Though I really know nothing about romance, I do know a lot about fashion…” And he also submitted three pointed, opinionated fashion columns. That is how After a Fashion debuted in August of 1999. In the personals section. Suffice to say that Moser did not remain in the Personals section for long, and within a year, was moved up to the Arts section, and given half a page with photos every week.
Continuing sporadically to design fashion, Moser concentrated on writing about fashion, becoming best friends with Austin style legend Gail Chovan. Using his influence in the media, he and Chovan, along with promoter Neil Diaz and future designer Levi Palmer, established the Designers’ Guild of Austin. Bringing together the few disparate loners who were pioneers in the Austin fashion scene, the DGA produced a number of fashion shows of local designers and opened Idol on South Lamar, the first store in Austin the carry strictly local designers. But a back injury put Moser out of commission for two years, and while primarily writing to survive, Moser missed the hands-on creativity of design work. According to writer Beth Leibwohl, “He [Moser] should know. In addition to writing sumptuously about fashion, Moser spent the past few decades re-inventing it, in dark, baroque pieces. ‘For me,’ Moser said, ‘there is no Spring/Summer season, nor is there daytime. It is all Fall/Winter, and it is all eveningwear.’”
THE DECLINE AND FALL
Moser’s own fall occurred in 2007. At the peak of his career, and having just lost 200 lbs., he was ready to reveal his new, glamourous self at his swank and celebrity-filled 50th birthday party. Heady with popularity and attention, Moser’s moment collapsed the day of his birthday party when he was informed by his doctor that he had terminal prostate cancer, and was given six months to live.
Offered multiple invasive and mutilating treatments to “extend his life,” Moser asked himself the hard questions, and decided that with such a severe prognosis, he would forgo treatments and let nature take its course. “People get sick and die all the time,” he said at the time, “If it’s my time to go, then it’s my time to go.” Moser’s family agreed with his request to die at home with them at his side.
But he did not die. He did not even feel sick, and getting a death sentence as he was developing into the person he’d always wanted to be, was an exquisite irony of life. Deciding to live life for all its worth, Moser plunged headlong into drugs, sex and unmitigated debauchery, trading his old friends who cared deeply about him for new, younger friends that wanted to drink and party and dance all night. In March of 2009, Moser, inebriated on multiple substances, wound up being arrested for First Degree Arson in a very public scandal that brought news crews to his home, interviews with friends and neighbors, and his name was splattered all over the media (including the vaunted Dallas Observer) - “Austin Style Guru Charged with First Degree Arson.”
“I did do it,” Moser says. “I was anesthetizing myself into complete numbness, not caring what I did or how I affected other people. I was out of my mind on drugs and foolishly set fire to my roommate’s car in the Austin City Hall parking garage. On camera.” The one detail that every media outlet included was that, “Moser was wearing a full-length white fur coat and black leather jeans.” So pervasive was that detail, that it was even used as an opening joke for the very first Austin Fashion Awards (now part of Fashion X Austin), with the emcee saying, “How can people say that Austin has no fashion when the Chronicle’s Style Avatar is arrested wearing a full-length white fur coat and black leather jeans?”
Moser’s terminal illness and previously unblemished criminal record figured into the DA’s office allowing him to plead down to Criminal Mischief, and he was given three years probation, intensive outpatient drug and alcohol counseling, community service and fines. Moser complied, and sank into the darkness of depression. Moving in with his mother and sister, it was evident that Moser’s illness was indeed catching up with him. And after three years of probation, Moser was given yet another year. And at the same time, his cancer had reached a stage that required immediate hospitalization, and the only thing that could be done to slow the raging progress of the cancer was to have Moser surgically castrated. The emotional devastation was complete.
SEEDS OF THOUGHT
Bereft of faith and future, he worked in the yard at home, planting, pruning, and watching the seasons change. He laid low socially, lost in despair, but continuing to write his weekly column in the Chronicle. His writing took on a far more thoughtful tone, and he began to look within himself for writing material. Sharing his anguish and depression with his readers, Moser, in fact, began writing far more eloquently and far more thought provoking. As his four years of virtual solitude was coming to an end, Moser’s work in the yard had proven to be excellent therapy. “Having my bare hands in the earth, planting seeds and watching them grow, and the changing of the seasons affected me greatly and through the darkness, I began to see a very dim light.”
Rueful of his previous excess and lack of empathy, Moser realized two things. First, he felt he was in an artistic void, really missing designing, and having only written about fashion since 2006. Secondly, Moser realized he was also in a spiritual void, believing in nothing and having no faith in himself. The only thing he knew, he says, is that he wanted to sew again, even if only for himself. Setting up a sewing machine in his mother’s art studio, Moser made a shirt for himself. Wearing the shirt to a South By Southwest fashion party, the compliments he received inspired him. Especially the compliment from another designer, Benson Roberts and his then-business partner Tina Johnson, who had established a cooperative studio set-up called WhiteStar Manufacturing, and asked if Moser would be interested in doing some designwork for them. Fate had stepped in and soon Moser was creating a collection of his own under the auspices of WhiteStar.
Incredibly generous with the time, resources and money, Roberts and Johnson allowed Moser to
let his fashion dreams come true. In August of 2012, WhiteStar produced a fashion show meant to compete with Austin Fashion Week (Moser had delightedly referred to it in his After a Fashion column as Austin Fashion Weak). The show, Cattivo, was an amalgamate of designers with different skill levels, but Moser’s return to design overshadowed all of them. Taking men’s and women’s fashion to places he’d never dreamed of, Moser’s Cattivo finale was heralded by the media as the second coming. The show was an enormous success for Moser, who, gaunt and visibly ill with cancer, appeared on the runway at the end of the show eliciting applause as well as gasps.
Driven and motivated as never before, Moser planned a solo show for himself. Produced by Moser’s devoted friend Jaclyn Havlak, the show was called Eleven Eleven, held on 11/11/12 at Austin’s historic Driskill Hotel. As a benefit for Hospice Austin (naturally) and their pet care program for terminally ill patients, Moser called on his many influential friends to model for him - Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, famed photographer Micky Hoogendijr, former MTV Headbanger’s Ball host Adam Curry, a slew of City Council people, CEOs, artists and other “localebrities” as Moser calls them. His emcee for the show was Grant Gentry Hicks, who would influence Moser greatly in the future, becoming his friend, muse and spiritual guru. Sold out, the show drew an enormous crowd, including someone who would make Moser a life-changing offer - DIFFA/Dallas’ Chairman Emeritus Greg Haynes Johnson, who invited Moser to donate an outfit to 2013’s House of DIFFA.
Already slated to be the finale of the of the Austin Fashion Awards in May, Moser was thrilled to be noticed by DIFFA, whose show was in March. He decided to donate one of the gowns from the Eleven Eleven collection. But, as Moser says, “There was some Divine intervention occurring. I thought I must have been crazy, but I timidly called DIFFA’s Carol Quist and asked if I could donate a men’s ensemble as well.” Needless to say, Quist agreed, and a couple of days later, she received another call from Moser asking if he could donate a collection of one-of-a-kind suits, so over-the-top that they would make a grand spectacle. Moser knew that the universe was guiding him, and with Hicks as his muse and sage, he designed and made ensembles that stretched his imagination further than it had ever been.
Moser’s reception at House of DIFFA in 2013, during which he received an award specially created for him as Best Design Newcomer, reinforced within him his passionate desire to break free of his design standards of yore and let divine inspiration be his only guide. Becoming much more self-aware through his experiences, Moser made a dazzling appearance on the DIFFA runway, spawning a glorious Bret Redman photo in D Magazine and a flood of attention from the public. Eventually he heard from a gentleman named Jhonatan Arreola, asking if Moser was the one who designed the suits for DIFFA. Arreola told him how marvelous his work was and that he’d never seen - or worn - anything quite like it. Flattered, Moser and Arreola remained friends.
Despite the distractions, Moser focused on his upcoming Austin Fashion Awards finale, turning his eyes heavenward for inspiration. Noted now for the theatricality of his shows, he threw caution to the wind and put together Fashion As Theatre: A Pagan Royal Wedding. The theme was an imaginary and ethereal Pagan wedding, with the wedding guests attending from many cultures on this planet… and other dimensions as well. “I felt like I was possessed as I designed the show,” says Moser. “I’d never done anything like it, but had a complete and definite perspective on what it should be like.”
Spiritually led, Moser designed as if he were someone else entirely. He said at the time, “The fabric is my master, and I am its obedient slave. I do not draw a picture and decide what fabric to make it in - it is the fabric that inspires me. It whispers to me, caresses me, seduces me, telling me what it wants to be. And I must submit. It is beyond my control.” The collection was a 30-minute long presentation of 38 separate ensembles for men and women. He was a star among stars that night as the preceding designers included his friends Gail Chovan, Boudoir Queen (Dawn Younger-Smith), and Kendra Scott, for whom Moser had been publicizing for years, and sported some of her most creative over-the-top jewelry at fashionable events. As his finale drew to a close, Moser’s dearest friend Chovan took the stage and began talking about Moser in an irreverent, humorous manner that had the audience in stitches. Chovan was up there to present Moser with the Fashion Awards’ Golden Boot award for lifetime achievement. In addition, he was presented with an enormous digital portrait of himself based on a Linda Hughes photograph, and enhanced by artist Charlie Terrell.
Resting on his laurels, as it were, Moser continued writing for the Chronicle, but only briefly. Knowing that he must achieve the potential that he knew was within him, Moser’s columns reflected those changes. He cared less and less about writing, more and more about design, and more and more about the Universe and his place in it. His editor was not so pleased with Moser’s laissez faire attitude, and after a minor confrontation, Moser quit the Chronicle one month shy of 14 years.
Moser and Hicks’ complicated relationship had become Moser’s focus in life, and after quitting his longtime Chronicle job, Moser took Hicks on a spur-of-the-moment seven-week spiritual journey to Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Moser and Hicks explored the Southwest, explored the Native American traditions that they were both so drawn to, and explored themselves as well. Moser would never be the same. Inspired, yet mired in emotional turmoil, Moser was creatively barren, producing nothing but ideas. He and Hicks had moved outside of Austin, to a remote location they dubbed Rancho Couture. But the financial strains of Moser’s illness and discord between Hicks and him resulted in distancing themselves from each other.
Broken, Moser again moved back to his mother and sister’s house, emotionally and physically ill. Compounding that was his sister’s cancer diagnosis, which held more imminent danger than Moser’s, which he had now been living with for seven years. “I guess I just kept forgetting to die,” says Moser with his typically dark, gallows humor. But the situation went from bad to worse as his sister required serious attention, and Moser himself became unable to care for himself any longer. Eventually he was placed in Hospice Austin for care, and the long string of visitors gathered at his deathbed to pay homage.
But, again, Moser forgot to die. He not only forgot to die, but turned his impressive powers of concentration within himself. “I made a deal with God,” he said. “There was some reason I was still here on this earthly plane, so I begged God for a second chance. He was skeptical, pointing out how many times he’d given me second chances… and third chances… fourth… fifth, and so on. I completely understood how God felt - I wouldn’t have given me a second chance either.” But, according to Moser, God knew that Moser had worked hard within himself, and God reconsidered his position. “He told me, ‘Moser, I like you, but you’ve just never lived up to the potential I gave you. If I were to alleviate the symptoms of your illness, you could possibly have a brilliant future as a designer, sage, teacher and inspiration. But only if you understand that these are gifts I’ve given you, and you, in turn, must share them with others.’” Moser solemnly swore to uphold his agreement with God.
In October of 2014, Moser wrote an eloquent, loving and comprehensive review of his dear friend Chovan’s annual show in Austin. Not having written about fashion in almost a year and a half, Moser posted his review on Facebook, garnering many compliments on his writing, as well as his astute understanding of fashion, and understanding of Gail Chovan. Chovan herself was deeply moved, and the review brought an unexpected reaction. Moser’s friend Arreola wrote him on Facebook, asking Moser, “Did you write this?” Moser, knowing how sophisticated Arreola’s taste could be, answered, “Yes.” Arreola continued, “So you’re a clothing designer and a fashion writer?” Moser pointed out that he’d been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. “I seeee…” said Arreola. “It just so happens that I’m starting a fashion website, and could see that someone with your experience and talent could be quite an asset…” “Hmmm,” thought Moser, “I could use a change of scenery…”
Things became things, as things often do. Fast forward to one year later. Moser is now a Dallas resident, and Fashion Editor at FashionScoop.com. Sharing his love and knowledge of fashion and its history in stories, reviews and columns that range from snarky to sublime, Moser is once again at the top of his game. As FashionIcon57 on Twitter and Instagram, Moser has rebranded, reinvented and recreated himself. Again. Gaining new public exposure, and a sincere belief in his God-given gifts, he is once
again working towards a new fashion collection that he expects to unveil in about six months… or whenever the time is right. It is FashionScoop.com’s pleasure to have Stephen MacMillan Moser onboard and a pleasure to be the first to show off his talents to Dallas. Thank you, Stephen.
Editorial Photography by Fairooz Imaging, Hair & Make Up by Ricky Flores, The Campbell Agency models, Alencia Lewis & Kate Schmidth, Art Direction by Jhonatan Arreola, Interior Design by Gary Riggs Home