Nolan and Tobias on Politics and Fashion

Designer and DNC treasurer in a Q&A.

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DENVER — Designer Charles Nolan and his life partner, Andrew Tobias, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, perfectly exhibit the union between politics and fashion.

This story first appeared in the August 28, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In an interview at the Democratic National Convention here, among thousands of energetic delegates poised to nominate Sen. Barack Obama as the first major party African-American candidate to run for the White House, the duo gave their perspective on everything from the fashion styles of potential first ladies Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain to the economy, Warren Buffett and the convention.

On First Ladies’ Style
In a fashion contest between the two potential first ladies, Nolan would — perhaps not surprisingly — give the edge to Michelle Obama.

“Michelle just has a much more natural, youthful take on how to dress,” said Nolan. “The idea of running in and getting a dress for $110 bucks [at White House|Black Market] and having it look amazing on ‘The View’ is incredible. She is very natural and attractive and in person she has a presence.”

Nolan, who staged a pre-convention fashion show for Saks Fifth Avenue this past weekend at a house used in Woody’s Allen’s “Sleeper,” said he has never met Cindy McCain, but has observed that her fashion style is vastly different from Obama’s.

“She seems sort of fairly traditional and almost kind of clichéd and a little pinched,” he said of McCain. “It’s that whole pinched, semiperfect look. I liked her better when she was doing the bad hairdos and went a little Vegas for awhile. She likes the cosmetics.”

He said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has a sense of style, although in a narrow range that includes a lot of suits, he said.

“She doesn’t care about the significance so many attach to her fashion style,” said Nolan, who has been preparing his spring collection from afar while in Denver. “Ultimately, in a pure society, we wouldn’t care either. It shouldn’t matter. She wants to tell the right story. Oscar de la Renta has done good by her and she was smart enough to understand that while she was in the White House, it was really important.”

Nolan said it’s tough for women on the campaign trail to figure out what to wear.

“In New York state, the black suit is great, but I don’t think it will play well across America,” he said. “That said, she is not going to suddenly show up in a dress because that isn’t her.”

On Politics
Attending his third convention, Nolan was enthusiastic about the Democrat’s presidential ticket.

“There is an excitement about Sen. Obama and his message, the presentation and hope it represents,” he said.

On Obama’s pick for vice president, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden Jr., Nolan said the country needs someone who is willing to confront issues in a direct manner.

“I’ve always thought he gets in trouble sometimes for being too direct in the way he speaks, but I would rather have someone who gets in trouble for being too direct than someone who is trying hard not to say anything,” he said. “He’s a straight shooter and he’s a good-looking guy and I think the two of them look great together. They look like they are pretty well matched. Joe’s got bigger hair.”

Tobias, who took the stage on Monday to speak to delegates about the current economic malaise and Obama’s economic plan, said in his speech that Obama will stand up for equal rights, turn the economy around and restore confidence on the world stage.

“As an investor, I yearn for a president who looks to financial heroes (such as Berkshire Hathaway chairman and chief executive officer Warren Buffett), not corporate lobbyists, for economic advice,” Tobias said. “As a gay man, I yearn for a president who believes in equal rights for all Americans. But most of all, as an American, I yearn for a president that the world can root for and be inspired by. Because having much of the world on our side again would not only be good for our national security, it would be good for business.”

On the Economy
Talking in their suite overlooking the convention hall, Tobias said it was a telltale sign of Obama’s economic prowess that Buffett came out of the shadows to actively do fund-raising for Obama.

“What does it say about Barack Obama that Warren Buffett, one of the wisest and richest men in world, who avoided getting involved in politics like the plague, is now doing fund-raisers for Obama?” he asked rhetorically.

Tobias pointed to rising inflation, foreclosures and high gas prices, as well as job losses under the Bush administration as the reason why now is the time for change.

“And our national debt — just 30 percent of the [gross domestic product] when the Reagan-Bush voodoo economics began — will be up to 70 percent, $10 trillion, by the time George W. Bush finally leaves office,” he told the delegates.

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