NEW YORK — The Charles Nolan Reading Room was unveiled Thursday night at the High School of Fashion Industries, nearly two years after the designer’s death.
A voracious reader throughout his 53-year life, Nolan counted on his longtime partner Andrew Tobias to read aloud books by Mark Twain, Alan Bennett and Steve Martin when his health diminished. Dedicating the room, Tobias said, “Charles read five times as fast as I did. In the last days of his life, I would read aloud to him and I like to think I developed some acting skills in that time. Charles would be lying there with his eyes closed under an unbelievable amount of medication and he would say, ‘We already read that.’ I would look for the right part and he would say, ‘Oh for God’s sake — it’s the milliner in chapter three.’”
Around that time the pair initially considered giving Nolan’s books to his alma mater, the Fashion Institute of Technology, but then they agreed the West 24th Street high school could use them more. Once the reading room was approved, their friend German Carmona designed the space for free when not working at his day job at Cooper, Robertson & Partners. He Nolan-ized it by hanging framed sketches and photos of the designer’s work, and an actual accessory here and there. The room’s red, white and blue accents remind visitors of Nolan’s flag-waving ways. (In 2003, he gave up his head designer job at Anne Klein to volunteer for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign.)
Anthony Trollope was a Nolan favorite, as well as P.D. James and Mary Renault. Tobias personally placed books by those writers, as well as such lighter fare as Liz Smith’s “Dishing” and Shinta Cho’s “The Gas We Pass: The Story of Farts.” Visitors to the reading room can find traces of the designer’s creative talents in a row of lockers, where an assortment of keepsakes include a Nolan-designed hat, well-worn Topsiders, a costume mask and a wooden tennis racket.
During his remarks, Tobias encouraged the crowd (which included Nicole Fischelis, Ruth Finley, Monika Tilley, five of Nolan’s eight siblings, and Nolan’s father, Philip) to check out the murals Ernest Fiene did for the school as part of the WPA project. “Charles would have liked that. He was a progressive Democrat,” Tobias said.