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NEW YORK — Fashion pros hover around the design store, Moss, buying up gifts, seeking inspiration and happily emptying their pockets for items both whimsical and essential.

Since its opening in 1994, Murray Moss’ hyper-chic SoHo shop has become the city’s mecca of industrial design for everything from a $42 steel champagne whisk to decorative birds made from Venini glass — selling for $29,000 each. And if it feels like home to the designers, editors and buyers who flock there, it should: Moss is one of fashion’s own.

This story first appeared in the October 7, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The original Moss store opened on Madison Avenue in 1979. Stocked with avant-garde fashion designed by Ronaldus Shamask, it flourished during the Eighties, when business partners Moss, formerly an actor, and Shamask became New York’s editorial darlings. While the good times didn’t last — after a bitter trademark dispute in 1990, Moss left the industry behind — the ways of fashion informed the beginnings of his Greene Street store.

“That’s what I took from fashion,” says Moss one afternoon, smiling at his rows of sunny glass vitrines. “People run their hand over a rack of clothes and they think they’ve seen it all.”

Not at Moss.

The store’s labyrinthine layout makes it next to impossible to take the whole thing in with one glance. Ted Muehling’s curvaceous silver candlesticks, classic designs by Georg Jensen, cult treasures from new stars like Tord Boontje and innovations like Zani & Zani’s metallic lace tablecloth are all locked away behind glass, as if in a museum display.

“My first thought about a shop was, ‘Is it just somebody in the way? A troll under the bridge?’” says Moss, a sweet-faced, well-pressed man who’s often found right here, minding the store.

It might seem obvious that a design-curious customer who spends thousands on a Yohji Yamamoto coat would probably shell out the same for high-concept housewares, but in the early Nineties the idea was still risky. Before landing on Greene Street, Moss conducted an experiment in his apartment, buying items that demonstrated his cool, setting up a mock shop and showing it to retailers with the hope of forming a new partnership. “Fashion was on the downswing in 1990 and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to take this whole sector in a new direction?’” says Moss. “No one was interested.”

Not that he’s bitter. When Charivari’s Jon Weiser finally bit, lending a corner to the home concept, Moss realized just how good his idea was and struck out on his own instead.

But relying on exclusivity or a novel concept was not an option. If he succeeded, his store would spawn imitators. “I learned in fashion that you can’t think people have to work with you because there’s no one else,” says Moss. “I like to imagine a store directly across the street that has all the same stuff. Then I think about how to get people to come to me instead.” Of course, what that proverbial store across the street doesn’t boast is the quirky, expensive and expansive taste that creates his shop’s harmony.

Working fashion’s lifestyle model, Moss avoids the ho-hum merchandising tactics employed by his peers. “In industrial design, candlesticks are still in the candlestick department,” he says. “But people are so hungry to learn. The idea of grouping things by lifestyle, by mentality, is bound to move into other areas.”

Since opening day, when a lone trash can graced the front window, Moss’ treasures have been arranged in provocative vignettes. In one glass case a Doberman Pinscher cast in Nymphenburg porcelain poses coyly amid a cluster of delicate drinking glasses.

But that arrangement could change at any moment. The fashion idea Moss would most like to teach the design-buying public is simple: Change is good. “When people come in they think, ‘We had better like this cutlery or these glasses or this sofa for our whole lives and our feelings about it should never change,’” he says. “But you don’t ever hear anyone say, ‘I’m not buying that jacket because I won’t be able to wear that five years from now.’

“From fashion, I gained the confidence and the comfort in knowing that you are going to change.”

In fact, Moss, who travels to six or seven design fairs each year, is always searching for what he calls “idea-rich objects” — and changes his mind all the time. “I start in aisle A and finish with aisle Z. I look at everything I’ve seen before because I may feel differently now,” he says. Daily, he moves merch from one spot to another on the sales floor, brings in new items and takes others away. “I approach my store as a greengrocer and make decisions based on whatever looks fresh,” he says. “Every morning I say, ‘Does any of this make sense today?’”

Beyond working fashion’s strategic angles, Moss still finds the subject itself compelling. How could he not — it’s everywhere. “Objects don’t exist in a vacuum,” he says. “Fashion is such a powerful machine, I’d rather ride the wave.”

Moss’ customers, after all, come in directly after visiting Louis Vuitton. “Whatever Marc communicated to them is a very strong story,” he says. “I’d rather use that than ignore it.

“People know how to look at fashion and there are endless venues for communicating its ideas,” he continues. “How many windows have cutlery in them?”

Cutlery, which he calls the underwear of design — it’s that intimate — is Moss’ obsession. But since trading cashmere for cutlery, the fashion-industrial design crossover hasn’t always agreed with him. For example, he thinks that fashion designers who do home collections should give it a rest.

“A pianist plays music and a cellist plays music, but I wouldn’t ask a pianist to play the cello and I wouldn’t assume that someone like Giorgio Armani could make a chair,” he says. “The difference is vast and it’s presumptuous to think, ‘If I can do this, I can do that.’ ”

Of course, there are a few exceptions, including Halston’s home collection and Hussein Chalayan’s fashion-cum-furniture collection. Moss would have loved to see what Vionnet could have done, but he also thinks that, given her architectural sensibility, Jil Sander might make a mean chair.

Following his own logic, however, Moss won’t produce a private label collection or take on the role of designer himself. “I’m a merchant and it’s a full-time job,” he says. “Just because I look at everything doesn’t mean that I can design.”

He also nixes the idea of opening any branch locations, preferring to stay put and expand his 7,000-square-foot store. “My model would be Bergdorf Goodman,” he says. Someday there might be vertical expansion, a Moss hardware store or a restaurant. “But at the very end,” Moss says, “I’ll probably be one of those old design guys who opens a summer theater in Woodstock.”

Beyond working fashion’s strategic angles, Moss still finds the subject itself compelling. How could he not — it’s everywhere. “Objects don’t exist in a vacuum,” he says. “Fashion is such a powerful machine, I’d rather ride the wave.”

Moss’ customers, after all, come in directly after visiting Louis Vuitton. “Whatever Marc communicated to them is a very strong story,” he says. “I’d rather use that than ignore it.

“People know how to look at fashion and there are endless venues for communicating its ideas,” he continues. “How many windows have cutlery in them?”

Cutlery, which he calls the underwear of design — it’s that intimate — is Moss’ obsession. But since trading cashmere for cutlery, the fashion-industrial design crossover hasn’t always agreed with him. For example, he thinks that fashion designers who do home collections should give it a rest.

“A pianist plays music and a cellist plays music, but I wouldn’t ask a pianist to play the cello and I wouldn’t assume that someone like Giorgio Armani could make a chair,” he says. “The difference is vast and it’s presumptuous to think, ‘If I can do this, I can do that.’ ”

Of course, there are a few exceptions, including Halston’s home collection and Hussein Chalayan’s fashion-cum-furniture collection. Moss would have loved to see what Vionnet could have done, but he also thinks that, given her architectural sensibility, Jil Sander might make a mean chair.

Following his own logic, however, Moss won’t produce a private label collection or take on the role of designer himself. “I’m a merchant and it’s a full-time job,” he says. “Just because I look at everything doesn’t mean that I can design.”

He also nixes the idea of opening any branch locations, preferring to stay put and expand his 7,000-square-foot store. “My model would be Bergdorf Goodman,” he says. Someday there might be vertical expansion, a Moss hardware store or a restaurant. “But at the very end,” Moss says, “I’ll probably be one of those old design guys who opens a summer theater in Woodstock.”

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