Yesterday, our dear friend — the smart, handsome, charming and very talented clothing designer Charles Nolan — died of cancer at age 53. He is survived by his partner of 16 years, the wonderful Andy Tobias, a financial guru and the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. He is also survived by his father, his four sisters and four brothers.
Charles graduated from FIT and apprenticed at Bill Blass and Christian Dior. He joined Ellen Tracy in 1990 and went on to become its chief designer. He left Ellen Tracy in 2001 to join Anne Klein, then surprised the fashion world in 2003 by quitting to volunteer for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. After Dean dropped out of the race, Charles started a self-named line, which was sold at Saks and in his own downtown boutique. Washington Post style writer Robin Givhan welcomed him back to the business with a story called “Style, Interrupted.”
When the New York Daily News asked Charles if the political world was more cutthroat than fashion, he said it was a tossup. “Political people tend to care more, because they’re going after something and the passion’s there. But both are rough,” he said.
I loved going to Charles’s shows. He was well-known for using non-models, including swimmer Dana Torres. Family members often walked the runway and inspired his work: I always got choked up seeing the likes of Andy’s mother modeling along with an apparently unlimited supply of nieces and nephews.
Charles called me Anita after I showed up at a Ricky Martin concert in Miami dressed like an escapee from West Side Story. I called him “Shar-less” after he told me that an employee pronounced his name that way. MrB and I still have the plants Andy and Charles sent us as a housewarming gift in 2000. Not only do we have them — the only plants we’ve ever had — MrB dotes on them. When MrB is traveling, he calls to make sure I’m watering his plants (or “my plants,” as he calls them). And I’ve seen him come home and water them before he even takes off his coat.
Last week, when I heard the end was near, I emailed Andy to tell Charles that if more designers were like him, people would have a good reason to admire the fashion industry. You know how people say, “Pretty is as pretty does“? Well, if chic is as chic does, Charles was as chic as it gets. We will miss him always.
You can learn more about Andy’s and Charles’s relationship from one of Andy’s many books, The Best Little Boy in the World Grows Up.
UPDATED TO ADD: The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations should go to Women In Need, an organization that provides housing, help and hope to New York City women and their families who are homeless and disadvantaged.
Vaya con Dios, M Nolan.
Eleven years and the houseplants are still around? I haven’t been around houseplants to know if they can live forever with the right care or not, but that is cool.
And I wish more designers would use non-models for their runway shows. That would be awesome.
Penny Dreadful Vintage says
How sad Wendy. I hdan’t heard of Charles before, I must have a look at his work x
Julia, the Thanksgiving Girl says
I am sorry for your loss, Wendy. This is such a beautiful and touching tribute… May he rest in peace.
Hi there-what a lovely tribute post to him, he sounded like a much talented and lovely man, condolences to his family at this time.
I am very sorry for your loss. I had not heard of hime but he sounds like a wonderful person, and I love that he used his family to model at shows.
Oh, Wendy, I’m so sorry. What a sweet way to remember him, and share him with the rest of us.
belle de ville says
I remember his line at Saks. He designed really wearable clothes.
Pearl Westwood says
That is very sad news indeed, a beautiful tribute post Wendy xx
What a tragic loss. He lead a very impressive life. Great Tribute Wendy.
I’m so sorry. It is obvious from your post that he will be missed by many. Prayers going up for all that loved him!
I love that you found and posted your wedding pic with Charles and have so many fond memories.
i am so sorry you lost your friend, and at such a young age. my heart goes out to those that loved him.
Emma at Daily Clothes Fix says
So sorry to hear the news. He sounds amazing and I think it’s wonderful that he used non-models for his shows. I think it really helps to showcase how fashion is for everyone.
Wendy: So sorry you have lost a dear friend. xoxo
La Belette Rouge says
Oh no, Wendy. I am so sorry to hear this. I actually own a Charles Nolan sweater, trouser and jacket. I got them when they used to have a department of his beautiful line at Saks. I LOVED his pieces. They were comfortable, beautiful, chic and timeless. I actually have been wondering what happened to him. I haven’t seen his line in the last few years. I am truly so very sorry. What a horrible-horrible loss.
So so so tragic 🙁
Gone way too soon.
I’m very sorry.
I was a big fan of his from my Saks days and I was moved by your loving tribute. Clearly, he will be missed by many. I’m truly sorry for the loss of your friend.
fashion herald says
This is a wonderful tribute to your friend. Women loved his clothes, he had devoted fans.
miss sophie says
what a wonderful and beautifully written tribute, wendy. i am sorry he left so young.