At 32, Cynthia Moon has broken almost all the rules that govern success in fashion design.
Every aspiring young designer gets the same advice: Pay your dues. That is, go to college or design school, learn the techniques, and get a job. With the result that lots of them wind up as total unknowns, hidden in the back rooms of huge clothing manufacturers, grinding out “what the public wants” and dreaming all the while of stardom, of creating unique and exciting designs, of setting style instead of merely following it.
Cynthia didn’t do any of that – except go to college. And she did that, she says, “to prove to my mother that I could put myself through.” She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in anthropology, but the only work she could find was secretarial. Finally, she landed a job in a Boston advertising agency, where she moved up to media buyer. There she also met her husband-to-be, Richard. She moved on to a job with National Boutique magazine as assistant art director – even though she has no credentials in art. Eventually she was fired because of her attendance record.
When Richard landed a job in New York, Cynthia objected strongly. But he soon offered Dallas as a possible compromise. Cynthia agreed, but she wasn’t cut out to be a North Dallas housewife. She signed up for some fashion courses at El Centro. There she heard the old “pay your dues” line again and again – a designer, she was told, can’t make it unless he or she works for a manufacturer. And when one of her instructors informed her that the neckline she had sketched had to have a Peter Pan collar, she packed up her patterns and pins and walked out.
She joined forces with a friend, Judy Vetter, and opened a boutique, Crystal and Rose, in Olla Podrida. It was an immediate success, even though her designs were, as she puts it, “avant-garde for Dallas in 1972 – but still pretty.”
She’s kept her reputation for unusual styling, but says, “I don’t think I’m bizarre. I have good taste.” The reputation for eccentricity may also come because she wears a tattoo instead of a wedding ring. And because she makes use of dead houseplants by draping them with twinkling Christmas lights, has a Texas-shaped swimming pool, and houses enough animals to receive frowns from city officials.
As for her clothes, she’s been known to design a bright purple dress and then spray it with a paint gun to make it “interesting.” Even customers familiar with her experiments are sometimes shocked at what Cynthia’s up to: “I sometimes find a customer will skip a year buying from my shop,” she says. “They’ll come back and find my stuff’s too weird that year.”
Is this a weird year? Yes, she thinks. Right now she’s working with wrinkled silk and day-glo colors. “No one seems to understand the concept of wrinkled silk,” Cynthia admits, and as far as day-glo is concerned, she points out that she has designs that fit this years’s fashion craze: As long as “brights” are in, she says, “I think I should be able to do day-glo.”
Though she sounds like a throwback to the Sixties, most of her designs are in the fashion mainstream. The “retro” look, straight from the Fifties, appears in her pink-and-black striped jackets and circle skirts. And she’s begun to design the skinny silhouette, not because she’s read that it’s fashionable, but because she likes the challenges it presents.
Most of all, her work is a natural for the disco craze. Many of her creations made a big hit at a disco fashion show at da Vinci this February.
Since she closed Crystal and Rose, her shop has been called Cynthia Moon – actually a pseudonym; she’d rather maintain her privacy and not give out her real name. The store has had four different locations, the current one on McKinney Avenue upstairs from Andrew’s. There she’s designer, pattern maker, pattern cutter, seamstress, salesperson, and manager.
“I don’t take an income from the business,” she says. “It’d just make taxes worse. The store supports itself – and it could support me.” Any profit she makes goes right back into the store, which is virtually free from debt. Still, her lack of rapport with bankers makes her angry.
“Bankers don’t like me. I’ve been in business six years and I’m still not allowed overdraft privileges. Bankers don’t understand what I’m doing. I’ve come to accept it, but I think it’s made me less ambitious.”
Even if some manufacturer wanted to hire her and promote her as a big name, she insists, “I’d rather just have a small business. Unless you’re young and naive, they don’t want you. They’re going to make all the money.” She’d rather not be under pressure to turn out “saleable” garments season after season.
And even though some of the socially prominent are among her customers, Cynthia continues to design what she wants rather than what they’d like: “I don’t want a lot of rich ladies telling me what they want me to make.” Even Bill Blass might trade his status as a celebrity for a few seasons of such total creative freedom.