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Craig Kellogg | September 12, 2013
There once was a holy sanctuary for the design-obsessed in downtown New York. Murray Moss kept the white surfaces of his namesake store, Moss, surgically clean. The glass cases were filled with ultra-deluxe objects. For 18 years, his pristine temple served as a museumlike outing for tourists and locals alike. “We led people, but you can get too far out in front,” reflects the Interior Design Hall of Fame member. He also allows that he “never really recovered from the financial crisis.” Along with the neighborhood’s ever-rising rents, the admitted obsessive-compulsive saw his stress level skyrocket as prospects sank. “It was like the Titanic, but I did not want to keep dancing—and I didn’t need to,” he says.
It was a complete surprise to many when he abandoned bricks-and-mortar retailing last winter, but today the dream lives on at Moss Bureau. Along with professional and personal partner Franklin Edward-Flewelling Getchell, Moss has turned a Midtown loft into a high-design gallery—special pieces that are still available through mossonline.com—and the office of a consultancy that advises manufacturers and designers. “I’m inviting you backstage,” he says, pulling a metaphor from his former life as an actor.
He hopes the venture packs a bigger punch than its relatively small square footage might suggest. “I didn’t want to go smaller,” he continues. Already, Moss Bureau’s influence is international: The impresario recently returned from Paris, where he submitted 182 pages of marketing research to Baccarat. Having nearly completed a Manhattan office for another client, he is an altogether lighter soul now. “I’ll do yard work,” he deadpans.
Dressed informally in a sport coat and open-neck dress shirt, Moss describes another project he intends as a kick in the pants for collectible design, a niche he has been actively promoting for a dozen years. “The market for design with art content had run up against a wall,” he states. This month, the auction house Phillips de Pury & Company held a sale called Moss, the Auction: Dialogues Between Art & Design. The lots paired the personal with the professional, grouping two to five objects—sourced from remaining inventory and his private collection—together with pieces of consigned art.
As at the store, the sale’s intention was to “articulate stories without words,” according to Moss. That means the sculptural affinities between a Louise Nevelson painted wood totem and a Maarten Baas charred clock were, hopefully, resonant to bidders. Moss recalls the store as “more-or-less autobiographical.” And like the best memoirists, he continues to weave tales around a knotof familiar names from his past. He describes a visit to the modernist German home of industrial designer Dieter Rams. Turns out Rams collected tchotchkes of all kinds, even a series of plastic ducks. That same storyline later took Moss into the vaults at Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg, where here covered figurines that earned hate mail when he ultimately displayed them in New York. “I was a modernist, and people thought I was jerking them around,” he recalls.
Being free of the store now, he says he can “tell more stories.” Moss Bureau will continue to promote artists and designers he previously showed—Cathy McClure, Gaetano Pesce, Marcus Tremonto, and Michael Anastassiades among them. Less familiar names include taxidermist Kelly McCallum and industrial designer JakeDyson—son of thevacuum-cleaner tycoon—who debuted his trig LED tasklamp at last spring’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. Next stop? Stay tuned. Murray from Chicago, as Moss refers to himself, may still know a few smart people with cash to spare.