As a budding stylist, Kevin Moser was obsessed with Madonna, an outsized figure whose grasp of branding and command of image made her last name irrelevant. To his own clients, he was simply Kevin — the colorist Belle Meade socialites just had to book for the season's key events. Last week, among sprays of white lilies, more than 200 people filed into Vanderbilt's Benton Chapel to send him off the way clients typically left his care: in style.
To the outside world, Moser was best known as a successful hairstylist whose thriving salon catered to the city's social set. The Swan Ball, for him, was like Black Friday for retailers. But friends say his clientele, like his large circle of acquaintances, came from all corners. Moser, who died of natural causes on June 28, at the age of 44, was a stranger to no one.
"Kevin was the type of person that, whether he was greeting you for the first time or not, he made you feel like he cared about you and loved you," recalls Moser's partner, Scott Stalker. "He was generous and kind with his whole being."
Born in Jacksonville, Fla., and raised in Chattanooga, Virginia Beach and Crossville, Tenn., Moser attended MTSU before moving to Nashville in 1996, learning his craft at Jon Nave University of Cosmetology. Described by friends as uniquely gifted with both creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, he opened his first salon in the upscale boutique Jamie. In 2000 he opened Element Salon in Green Hills, encouraging many employees to flourish under his instruction.
At the time of his unexpected death, Moser had developed a reputation as one of the city's top stylists. Readers named Moser "Best Hair Stylist" in the Scene's Best of Nashville poll for the past two consecutive years, and Element was repeatedly voted one of the top 100 salons in the country by Elle magazine. In her 2008 book How Not To Look Old, the late style maven Charla Krupp cited Element as the place "where the discriminating ladies of Belle Meade get gorgeous."
"He had a keen sense of design and style," says Scene publisher Mike Smith, a close friend of Moser's. "He would encourage you no matter what task you were undertaking." When Smith called him about being a salon sponsor of Nashville Fashion Week, he recalls, Moser said yes immediately.
"He knew it was something I had been working on and wanted to support me," Smith says. " 'If you're doing it, I'm in' — that was his approach in life."
Moser's half-sister, Stephanie Stoner, says that approach was there from the beginning, along with his kind heart and creative ambition.
"Kevin was such a sweet and loving brother," Stoner says. "One of my best memories as a child is Kevin dressing me up like Madonna with the wild hair, bangle bracelets, and ruffled skirts, and taking me all over town. He was always open and welcoming to me." Christy Gibson, a friend of Moser's for 20 years, laughs as she recalls slumber parties, movie nights, and other adventures with him during their days at MTSU.
"Kevin was so extremely generous, and so full of life," Gibson remembers. "If he couldn't find the words to tell you how he felt, he would find a way to show you," she says of the man she describes as her "best friend, Friday night date and ultimate backup plan."
But he was a stickler for style as a mode of expression you didn't switch on and off. Gibson, who served as a "mannequin head" for Moser when he was in school at Jon Nave, says he would never let her leave the house without heels and makeup, even if she was just going to the grocery store. Such attention to personal style as a seamless constant may explain his fascination with Madonna. Moser attended several Madonna concerts with Gibson and had plans to see the superstar again in October — proof of how sudden and startling his loss is.
"He will forever be in my heart," Stalker says. "I know that over time, the sadness will fade, but the impression he made on me as a best friend and partner will be as strong as the day we met." One of his longtime clients, Pat Ligon, fondly remembers him — by one name only, all that was needed — for his loyalty and his driven nature.
"Although Kevin was here for a short period of time, he aspired to accomplish great things," Ligon says. "Kevin, the most loyal and loving of friends, often stated that he wanted me, as well as my husband, to be proud of him. We are."