Please Do Not Touch

Please Do Not Touch, a new book by Murray Moss and Franklin Getchell, is an intimate and revealing portrait of the famed New York design store Moss. Written as a dueling narrative, the book twins the voices of Murray and Franklin starting at the very beginning with their childhood and running through the 18 year triumphant rise and precipitous fall of the famed design store.

Moss was a revelation. The design store you had to see; the design store you learned from. Moss evaluated its wares into the realm of art. I made it a point to visit Moss every time I was in New York. Even if they were closed, I would study the window display and peer in the glass. In the late 90s, I too was involved in celebrating design and I was in process of creating my own “frame” integrating design into the auction house process (or attempting to). Murray was marching at the head of a parade and I followed his every move.

Campana designs through the windows at Moss. Photo by Moss

Murray’s conviction in his vision comes through every page of this book. He champions design and designers, imbuing the objects with narrative. Murray delights in revealing these narratives through the placement and relation of the objects to each other. Moss brought the institutional frame generally associated with museums and art galleries to a design store. The frame is a key part of the message, elevating the products and forcing you to experience them in a careful manner.

An early counter card for Moss. Photo by Moss

There were rules at Moss, famously posted right inside the door. The rules (no food, no photos, no pets, basically no children) were strictly enforced. The rules are an expression of the rigor invested in every facet of the store. There are lengthy descriptions of the cleaning process: of the cases, the glass, the objects, even the sidewalk. Lest you thought the rules were only for the customer, the book includes an inset of an employee handbook. Safe to say, there were no casual Fridays at Moss.

The Employee Handbook reproduced within the book.

The book is at its best when Murray voices his dreams and pens valentines to the designers he worked with through the years. The world of design is still accessible and Murray worked with the top talent in the world, matching them in his passion to elevate their art. The love clearly flows both ways. Franklin tackles the tough stuff and describes the nuts and bolts of the business and discusses their financial struggles head-on with honesty and continual wit. They even include an image of the infamous tax seizure sign that was slapped on their window — a shocking image that went viral within the world of design and signaled the end of an era.

Our heroes do weather the storm. The book includes a reprint of a column Murray wrote entitled Born to Molt, written a year or so after the closing of the store. The essay is as courageous, graceful and hopeful piece of writing as I have ever read.

Murray and Franklin have gone on to establish a successful consulting business. There is another book waiting to be written on the radical concepts they are developing for museum retail stores. As Franklin writes: “museum retail should be part of the larger museum family, a platform for the museum’s values and mission.” How perfect that Moss is now changing the museum framework from which they were originally inspired. Ever the creatives, they are still working in a place where you definitely do not touch.

Richard Wright will be moderating a panel discussion with Murray Moss and Franklin Getchell at a book signing on June 19th at Designtex, 222 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL. If you would like to attend, please RSVP.

Moss gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Moss