Stephen MacMillan Moser drives up in his mother’s Lincoln Town Car. There is warmth in his complexion, reflecting a new-found ambition in his spirit. Pulling out of the city limits, where Moser’s fiercely honest commentary in Austin Chronicle’s weekly column After A Fashion is widely appreciated and revered, the spotlights and camera flashes that attend his public persona are replaced by lonely Texas sun rays seeping in through the blinds in the style avatar’s studio inside WhiteStar Manufacturing.
As he walks into the open space, he is greeted by close friend Benson Roberts, CEO and co-founder of WhiteStar. “I like that color on you, love,” notes Roberts, referring to Moser’s canary yellow paisley tunic. “Thank you! It makes me feel bright,” Moser nods in agreement. Shortly thereafter, others begin to crowd around a workspace behind Moser at his request. A Coco Chanel-themed screen saver flutters away to be quickly replaced by editorial images from an early-September shoot with model-photographer Micky Hoogendijk. “She said bring something to wear in the pool, so I brought my fur coat,” he offers, the outerwear in question hanging nearby in the company of other pieces from his Fall/Winter collection.
Moser steps outside, down makeshift wooden stairs, for a smoke break – a gathering place at which the relationship between himself and Roberts has been diligently strengthened and nourished. The two created an instant bond last year at the South by Southwest event formally known as Style X at time during which the city’s esteemed cultural icon was engaged in a wild battle with depression.
“He’s a designer who just so happens to write,” Roberts says. “The fact that he was so seemingly haunted just watching a fashion show led me to realize that there was within him an unsatisfied passion.” Roberts has since been one of Moser’s strongest driving forces to get his work back onto the catwalk, providing him with a sewing team to help unearth the now well-known Goth Glam visions revealed during Austin Fashion Week.
In between meticulously discussing velvet color choices and grey palates fitting for winter, Roberts candidly muses, “Creators create. I think his body created cancer, because it wasn’t creating fashion.” At WhiteStar, Moser is free to heal, his fans replaced by the hens that roam about, clucking as the peers sit around a worn, warm table sharing broken dreams of the past or optimistic plans for the future as their coffee and cigarettes dwindle and are refreshed. “I wanna be in fucking W again,” Moser says with impassioned sincerity, referring to the popular women’s magazine his designs once graced the pages of. They share a simple high-five, actions speaking louder than words. “Done,” Roberts says, not missing a beat.
This steady, positive atmosphere has continuously surrounded Moser as of late. It supports his natural talents when he begins to lose faith, and is always there waiting for him when he runs astray. “I have a real love-hate relationship with design,” he says. Amidst the chaos of fame, attention, rejection and abuse, his partner in process has the overwhelming ability to bring out the best in him, and now Moser is experiencing the true fulfillment, dedication, and self-assuredness from his work that throughout his 50 plus years on earth he had hesitated to eternalize within himself. Now, in true artist’s form, Moser’s work stands as a reflection of self-love, and as an extension of his being.
“Stephen was born with all aspects of fashion in his blood: the process, the creation and the showmanship – it feeds his soul,” says Gail Chovan, owner and designer of Blackmail Couture, and Moser’s declared “Goddess No. 1.” After meeting in the late 90’s, he describes their connection as “fireworks,” as his eyes ignite. They share an often sarcastic wit and deep-rooted mutual affection that remained even amidst Moser’s stagnant years of bound uncertainty.
But as the uncontrollable force of drug addiction took hold of him, he fiercely kicked every ounce of love out of his life to make room for his habit; yet one unexpected confidant fought to stay.
“She dragged me almost physically out of the darkness,” Moser says, regarding his muse, Jaclyn “Jacki OH” Havlak. They met during a 3 a.m. party, both clad in their shared trademark pairing of sunglasses and fur coat. “It was love at first sight,” she recalls; because for Havlak, the unlikely meeting wasn’t chance, but a guided fate cementing two shattered paths. “I spent my life with an addict, my mother, and I felt that if I could only offer him support and love, without judgment, that perhaps he would see that he was worthy of such affection,” she said.
As Executive Producer for The Art Department (TAD), she remembers that, although Moser “taught me more than I could imagine about proper technique, styling, textiles and navigating the torrential waters of the fashion world,” what Havlak most admires about her companion is his courage to not necessarily survive, but the increased persistence to thrive. “Stephen has shown me how fear actually can transition into hope,” she says.
“He’s gone through a lot in the past five years. Highs and lows. He’s had to time to think about what he really wants to do,” said Michael Barnes, Austin American Statesman’s Out & About Social Columnist. The person who perhaps understands Moser best–his sister and fellow writer at the Chronicle, Margaret, knows exactly what that is. “He’s a deeply sensitive man,” she says. “For someone whose job is to be critical of others, he takes critique of himself very painfully. And in the end, he’d rather be designing clothes than dissing someone else’s work.”
“All my glamour is smoke and mirrors,” says Moser, returning to his studio. “To me, it’s either hideous or fabulous, there’s nothing in between.” For this man who believes that fashion is a religion, a framed picture of timeless French designer Christian Dior, his guardian angel, is there to reassuringly keep watch. Because amongst the bejeweled materials and detailed sketches tacked to the wall, Moser is not his cancer, depression, or turbulent past, nor is he a frail composition of eccentric fabrics and patterns that only solidify his reputation — he is saved.
“I’m thrilled they asked the most influential person in local fashion to be part of the Advisory Board,” says Moser, discussing this past Austin Fashion Week. “Who’s that?” I ask. He leans back on his chair, cross-legged, with an intent glare of sheer confidence. “Me.”
Mark your calendars for Stephen’s next runway show, Nov. 11th, at the Driskill, benefiting Hospice Austin. For further details, please see his current After A Fashion post, “Wandering Lust” under the headline “Word Is Out”. Austin Fusion will also have the honor of having his regal self as MC for our Royal Court of Ashes Halloween Masquerade Ball, October 26th at The Blackheart.