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57 minutes with design impresario Murray Moss

Please Do Not Touch is a most compelling memoir

Co-founders and real-life partners Franklin Getchell and Murray Moss (left); the cover of Please Do Not Touch, out in April from Rizzoli (right).
(L) Hugh Hales-Tooke, courtesy of Moss / (R) Courtesy of Rizzoli

To say that Please Do Not Touch is a nostalgic look at Moss, New York’s most influential design store, is not quite truthful. Founders Murray Moss and Franklin Getchell co-wrote the book, which is out April 10 from Rizzoli, as a “fugue,” tying together “two parallel tracks of memories” that aren’t meant to resurrect the store so much as to eulogize it.

And what of Moss, for the readers too young to pay it a visit between 1994 and 2012? For a more recent vintage of design appreciators who can’t recall a time when midcentury modern wasn’t in vogue? For the shopper who can’t imagine a store that needs to be repainted in pristine white, every single Sunday afternoon?

Well, a few things to know about the place, and the influence of its founder: That high-low mix of vignetting, and the tendency to mix disparate things along thematic lines like “bones,” or “red”? Popularized at Moss. The design-y wedding registry oriented toward architects, critics, and career snobs? Popularized at Moss. The pairing of high-tech with maximalist decor? Moss. A store resembling a museum looking like a museum resembling a store? Also Moss.

The interior of a short-lived Moss in Los Angeles.

Curbed spoke with Murray Moss, the creative visionary and front man for the Soho store-slash-gallery, and Franklin Getchell, who handled the business and operational aspects, in a wide-ranging conversation that touched on Kanye West’s desire to get into design, legendary French decorator Andrée Putman’s diplomatic put-downs, and the (inevitable?) return of Memphis. We also heard from a few staffers who have gone on to work in the design industry—cleverly, the Rizzoli book replicates the old employee handbook as an insert.

On how Moss was different from its peers:
MM: “I think that the industry, which goes from functional objects to industrial kitchenware and bathtubs to candles, wound up together. It is by definition cacophonous; it’s the tower of Babylon. But what we did [at Moss] was pleasant. It was Philip Glass, not just noise. We threw into the cacophony uber-rationalists like Dieter Rams.

On the resurgence of trends like Memphis:
MM: “Things don’t come back—they go forward. They don’t change, they’re inanimate. What changes is us. What people are relating to Memphis today are not the same things they related to in the ’80s. Memphis was a kind of revolt intended as a heightened magnified gesture. It was a one-act play, like Droog was a one-act play. Memphis was an extremely well marketed punch in the face.”

Hermaphrodite Candle by Greece is for Lovers, 2007, left. Campagne de Campana Papelino Bell by Fernando Campana and Humberto Campana for Venini, 2005, right.
Chalkie Davies

On what Moss did differently (and is far more common in today’s retail):
MM: “What was missing—this sounds egotistical but I believe it—was the editor. I would start at the beginning case and wind around to make relationships. How do you travel from Alessi salt-and-pepper shakers to Staatliche porcelain? You have to personally know or make up or suggest a connector.
A museum makes declaration, when it acquires an object, that it’s a good thing. But we have to be prepared to change [our minds]; an object might become a bad thing tomorrow.”

On collecting objects and holding onto them forever:
MM: “To be honest with you, I’m not interested in the subject [of contemporary design]. It’s not what I do anymore. I don’t know why. Are you, Franklin?”
FG: “No, but I never was.”
MM: “I covet things, but I’m not very materialistic, so I keep it for a while and get rid of it. I’ve always had collections of one. I’m up early every morning and change things around every day—which is what I used to do at the store, but at home.”

On the process of writing a memoir:
Murray Moss: “We had this idea to write it together, but we’re much too...”
Franklin Getchell: “...stubborn and pig-headed.”
MM: “So we each wrote our own book. When I read the whole thing, I freaked out. His [part] is more engaging.”
FG: “My words are shorter.”
MM: “I’m like the teacher. Franklin is, like, bemused by it. I was thinking I could change my act...”
FG: “Too late!”

Oh, and that Andrée Putman-putdown?
MM: “We asked her, What do you say when people want to know what you think of their furniture? [According to her:] ‘What you say is, It must have taken you a very long time to make.’”

The curated vitrines of Moss’s Greene Street storefront, in Soho.

This interview has been condensed and edited.