For nearly a decade, Stephen Moser has been telling Austin what to wear, whom to befriend and what constitutes style. And he should know. The fashion designer, lauded style avatar and society columnist for The Austin Chronicle has led a life of beauty, wonder and excess in a manner befitting those celebrated yet tortured Hollywood luminaries Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe.
Moser has dealt with criticism, a wrenching drug habit that nearly killed him and even a bout with cancer for which he’s refused treatment. Despite it all, Moser is – perhaps unlike any other time in his life – at the top of his game.
Oddly, Moser began his career at The Austin Chronicle as a romance columnist in 1995 after he’d already spent seven years in New York designing and creating everything from bridal gowns to fitted women’s vests made of the finest antique fabrics to Christmas décor that he sold to the likes of Bergdorf-Goodman, Henri Bendel and Saks Fifth Avenue. But upon moving back to Austin and discovering that The Chronicle was hosting a contest to find a new romance writer for a column running in the personals section, Moser couldn’t resist. So he fashioned some stories about style heiress Jackie O., and applied for the romance-writer job.
“I wrote three romance columns but I also turned in some fashion columns at the same time, just to see what would happen,” Moser remembers. “They loved them and they hired me right off the bat.”
Though Moser and the paper grappled over what his “After a Fashion” column should be at its core, Moser, in his assertive and unforgivingly brazen way, persisted on developing a column wrought with attitude and glamour. What was initially a humorous and playful reflection of Austin life became a gossipy discourse highlighting the rich and famous, the well dressed and downright disastrous, and the fakers and moneymakers.
“I met all the finest people and went to all the best parties and events, and I had a blast with it all,” Moser says. “But eventually, it all went to my head.”
Then, last year, after celebrating his 50th birthday, Moser disclosed to his readers that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, a prognosis often tantamount to a death sentence. Doctors gave Moser only months to live, and though he received an outpouring of support from his friends, family and the community, Moser withdrew in to his own world, refused medical treatment (“I thought about the way I had lived my life with style and grace, and the choice was clear – I just wasn’t going to do it,” he says.) and went off the deep end in to a drug-addicted haze.
“That really destroyed my life,” Moser admits. “I skipped out on old friends, and wasted money and time and goodwill.”
But salvation often arrives masked as calamity, and such was the case for Moser. After months in a drug-induced trance, Moser awoke one July morning on the floor, having been badly beaten and robbed by his roommate and drug dealer.
“That was a huge eye-opener and a horrible wake-up call for me,” he says. “Since then, I’ve worked so hard to clean up and get back in to society.”
Moser managed to kick his habit and reappeared on the social scene as the beloved style guru Austinites couldn’t help but adore and admire. But, he admits, something was still missing from his life. He longed to fill the spiritual void, and hoped to mean something more to someone.
Now he’s on what he calls a “spiritual course,” and got an opportunity to take on a new responsibility when his teenage nephew, Tyler, recently moved in with him. As Tyler’s surrogate parent and mentor, Moser has been invigorated with new life.
“All of a sudden, having Tyler in my life has given me something to care about, some responsibility I didn’t even have for myself,” he says. “I realized I’m not bullet-proof anymore, and that I want to have feelings and emotions. And I feel amazing, I really do. This has given me a new outlook, and as long as I’m still alive I want to do the best I can and do good for someone else.”
This awakening has also re-energized Moser’s fashion column, enabling him to return to the witty, catty yet charming columnist that Austin fell in love with so many years ago.
“I have rededicated myself to my job, my friends, my family,” Moser says, “and my life.”