Meadowdale Middle School teacher Tamara Musser knows how the world sees her: “If you walked up to someone in Edmonds’ school district and asked them if they knew me, they’d say no. But if you described me, they’d say yes,” says Musser. The recognition is a result of the special educator’s sensational, at times scandalous (depending on which parent you talk to), high-fashion wardrobe.
An assortment of ensembles, including looks from Valentino, Oscar de la Renta and MSGM, lounge in the sun room.
While articles of clothing like Miu Miu Mary Janes with stiletto heels in the shape of teacup handles are typically the stuff of faraway runways, for Musser, couture collectibles are her everyday uniform. “It’s an expression of who I am,” she says. “I love designer clothes, but it’s not the label that appeals to me. I trend towards designers because they are the ones that do things that are interesting, things that are different.”
A collection of high fashion heels and handbags from Musser’s closet staged in the living room’s antique cabinet for our shoot.
Different has become synonymous with every aspect of Musser, from the Venetian masks and antique furnishings that decorate her 1906 Tudor-style home in Denny-Blaine to her love of the late designer Alexander McQueen, which resulted in an invitation to an intimate luncheon in New York with the McQueen fashion house’s creative director, Sarah Burton. “I am who I am. Simple,” Musser says. Her unapologetic philosophy is part of what informs her career teaching behaviorally challenged and autistic children for almost 40 years. “The kids that tell the principal to take a leap…yeah, I love those kids,” she jokes. “Adults don’t realize that you’re not respected because of who you are. Respect is earned. And I don’t expect kids to trust or respect me until I’ve earned both.”
A Venetian mask accessorizes looks from Prada and Rodarte’s Spring 2011 collections.
Musser has earned some notoriety for her over-the-top style, and the length of her skirts has been the topic of several parent-principal phone calls. “I’ve never had a complaint from a parent of a kid that’s been in my class,” she points out. “It’s always someone who just sees me around school.” Unfazed by her fashion critics, Musser says, “They could fire me tomorrow, and I’d be OK. I work because I love the kids. I’m not there for the adults.”
Musser refers to the adults she does care about mostly by last name (Dior and Dolce & Gabbana are two of her favorites), but Sindy Banh at Nordstrom is her undisputed VIP. The seamstress has customized most of Musser’s designer purchases for the last three decades, often rendering these garments almost unrecognizable, based on Musser’s vision. “Right now, I have an A-line Valentino skirt, and we’re gonna cut off both sides, make it straight with a bustle in the back, and I think it will look much better,” she says.
Musser’s most prized piece: a look from the late Alexander McQueen’s final collection in Fall 2010.
There are few high-fashion looks that Musser won’t try, but she confides that there are some houses she is less interested in exploring, for now. “I don’t have tons of Chanel,” she says. “Do I think Chanel suits are beautiful? Yes. Do they look beautiful on anybody? Yes. But they’re not different enough for me. My daughters say, ‘Mom, when you’re 80, you can wear that.’ So when I’m 80, I’ll buy Chanel.”