By Beth Lebwohl
I first laid eyes on Austin fashion legend Stephen MacMillan Moser as he smoked a cigarette outside of Mother’s Cafe in Hyde Park. Even from a block away, I could detect his elder-statesman-as-bad-boy shtick, by which I mean his frame had some weathering, but his look had youth.
Moser wore sunglasses, which, upon our moment of meeting, he removed to reveal mascara-caked lashes. I caught only a flash of them, for he quickly slipped his glasses back on and I was left to occupy myself with the rest of Moser’s outfit. It involved bright yellow pants, an embroidered black button-down shirt and an enormous costume jewelry necklace. The ensemble worked. As Moser told me, “If it’s worn with assurance and flair, you can pull off almost anything.”
He should know. Moser is revered as the take-no-prisoners author of “After a Fashion,” a style column that ran in the Austin Chronicle from 1997-2013. In addition to writing sumptuously about fashion, Moser spent the past few decades re-inventing it. In 1991, he started his own high-end clothing line called Made In Heaven, which features 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. “
Moser’s work has been carried in stores like Bergdorf-Goodman, Henri Bendel and Saks Fifth Avenue, and it has also graced the likes of Angelica Huston and Ivana Trump. Of course, Moser enjoys high-profile clients here in Austin; the musician Alejandro Escovedo is among them. Moser proudly showed me a photo of the outfit he designed for Escovedo’s wedding. “That vest is silk damask,” he cooed. “It’s made from curtains that hung in the Firestone [family] mansion for 100 years. I embroidered names inside of it.”
It’s all in the details for Moser, who is alive and kicking major fashion butt despite public battles with depression, addiction and cancer. Seven years ago, he told me, on the night of his 50th birthday, he got a phone call from his doctor telling him he had a terminal case of the disease. Moser wryly noted, “I tried to a lot of times to die. For seven years. But … it wasn’t that easy.”
Nor was it exceptionally hard: he wound up in hospice care a year ago. Preparing to say his final goodbye to the world, Moser decided to “make his peace,” as he put it. The experience changed him, and his health greatly improved. “For the first time, I love myself,” he told me. “I’m 57, and I feel like I can be a superstar.”
Moser is now preparing for a move to Dallas, where he will continue to design formalwear and also write for the blog Fashion Scoop Daily.
“Are you going to be fashion editor there?” I asked Moser.
“Oh, yes,” he replied. “They just don’t know it yet.”
“I am 57 years old, and was born in 1957. In fact, within a few hours before my birth in New Orleans, Christian Dior, the master himself, had died in France.
Dior’s New Look silhouette, launched ten years earlier in 1947, was still the prevailing style, with its massive skirts and petticoats, foundation garments and underpinnings, and undeniably feminine details. The lushness of the Fifties was beginning to give way to the sleekness of the Sixties, and old school couture still reigned.
This is what influenced me most.”
Get the Look:
1.“It doesn’t have to be expensive.
Style is not confined to designer labels. One of the reasons I became a designer in the first place is because I couldn’t really find the clothes I wanted to wear. But I definitely do not always wear my own designs head-to-toe. I love Moss Consignment. I love Neiman’s Last Call, I love Charm School Vintage. I love Walmart, I love Blackmail, and I love Brooks Brothers.”
2.“Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize.
As Olympia Dukakis said in Steel Magnolias, ‘The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.’ And fakes and cheap accessories are fine… as long as you pile them on. Junk jewelry, for instance – the more, the better. When I mix it up, it can easily be a combination of a scarf from Walmart and a Gaultier necklace.”
3. “Wear sunglasses all the time.
Yes, even at night in a club. In fact, especially at night in a club. With sunglasses, it’s hard to look bad in photos… and photos will be what will survive, long after our memories fade.”
Moser’s Local Picks
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Beth Lebwohl earned her writing chops here in Texas, where, for several years, she produced stories for EarthSky, a globally syndicated science radio program. In addition to her passion for the written (and spoken) word, Beth loves the graphic and decorative arts, tea, goat farms and the warm-hearted folks of Austin. She is a proud native of Queens, New York.
Written by Beth Lebwohl
Images Courtesy of Linda Hughes, Bret Redman for D Magazine, Osei Bonsu, Frances Mac Laughlin, LIFE