Bil Browning

Designer Charles Nolan Dies of Cancer

Filed By Bil Browning | January 31, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: Andrew Tobias, Anne Klein, Charles Nolan, obituary

Designer Charles Nolan, best known for his sportswear collections and work with Anne Klein, has died of cancer. His partner, Andrew Tobias, is the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. charles-nolan-andy-tobias.jpgBoth men are well-known and respected for their work for LGBT equality and Democratic politics.

Early in his career, Mr. Nolan was a major force behind the expansion of mainstream American sportswear labels like Bill Blass, Ellen Tracy and Anne Klein. But he was perhaps better known publicly for the work he did dressing private clients, including many prominent women on the political scene.

At the 2000 Democratic National Convention, for example, Tipper Gore was wearing a periwinkle Charles Nolan coat-and-dress ensemble when she was kissed so passionately by her husband, Vice President Al Gore, that the resulting image was widely described as humanizing Mr. Gore's robotic reputation during his run for president.

But his most surprising political statement, at least in the eyes of his colleagues on Seventh Avenue, came in 2003, when he abruptly quit as the head designer of Anne Klein, where he had led a successful turnaround of the brand's image, to volunteer for the presidential campaign of Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont.

Mr. Nolan said he had been disillusioned by the hesitancy of major designers to get involved in, or even talk about, politics -- although there was little evidence that his own activism had negatively affected his career.

Our condolences to Andy and his family. The world has lost a shining light.

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Not just for "their work for LGBT equality" but their endless sharing of their material wealth in contributing to countless LGBT charities and educational projects such as helping fund documentaries on our peoples' history. In addition to having worked as the DNC treasurer for over a decade for a rarely-paid $1.00 a year, Andy has even fought reduction of taxes on the wealthy like himself. And though they couldn't personally benefit as a couple, not living in CA, they donated $15,000 to fight Prop H8TE. By contrast, the possibly wealthier Rosie O'Donnell and fellow NY/Miami resident, who told San Francisco Mayor in 2004 that she'd "be there" if he ever needed her, didn't contribute one cent.

Andy and I have not always agreed, but I feel for his loss, which is also our Community's.

I didn't realize that Mr. Tobias's partner was well-known for his own illustrious career and achievements -- although this is not at all surprising.

I am sure it is difficult to lose a loved one at such a relatively young age (53). So many of us picture the wealthy as having lives that are devoid of pain such as this, but it just isn't true.

In appreciation for what these two men have done for us through the years, both Andrew and the Nolan family deserve our most genuine expressions of sympathy.