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Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Nov. 29, 2023

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Threads that turn heads: DC couple celebrate art with their wardrobe

3 Photos
José Alberto Uclés, left, and Tom Noll in their home. They have almost 300 suit jackets between the two of them.
José Alberto Uclés, left, and Tom Noll in their home. They have almost 300 suit jackets between the two of them. Photo Gallery

WASHINGTON — The black-and-gold jacket Tom Noll models is not only dazzling; it’s practically magic. Run your fingers over the surface, and like a touch screen it changes color where you brush it, from black to gold or back again. You could write your name on the sleeve — and admirers are encouraged to play once they see how the three-way sequin design works.

“I was waiting to see what you’d be wearing” is something Noll and his partner, Jos? Alberto Ucl?s, routinely hear as they attend arts events across Washington, D.C. Their unabashedly high-fashion jackets are eye-catchers, frequently sported with matching trousers, the tightly coordinated ensembles always accessorized to the nines.

“We never fight,” Ucl?s says as the couple displays a seemingly limitless wardrobe in their D.C. townhouse. Noll laughs and objects.

“Usually I let him have the showier one,” Noll says. “Nine times out of 10.”

How many do they have?

The burning question they get while adorning the crowd at theaters, operas, or art openings: How many of these splendiferous jackets do you have?

One hundred ten, says Noll. Ucl?s has 160. They come from shops like D.C.’s Why Not Boutiques and Georgetown’s Milano Collection, and sometimes from New York or Google.

Ties? More than 300. Recently tallied: 386 handkerchiefs, plus armloads of ascots. “We married the cuff link collection,” Ucl?s says, opening one display box and reaching for another. They count themselves lucky that they share a shoe size (13 wide).

Modeling in a bedroom upstairs, Noll shows off a black-and-white jacket with a sort of piano keyboard pattern, and black brocade pants.

“I have that in white,” Ucl?s notes, illustrating how they conspire to mix and match.

Ucl?s, 59, handles the social calendar and researches the evening’s show so their attire, typically coordinated by Noll, 61, will be appropriate. They met 11 years ago, and the Honduras-born Ucl?s hit it off at once with the Ohioan Noll. (They married in 2013.) Both had early experience as fashion models; tucked in a discreet corner of their D.C. living room, you can see Ucl?s’s face on a couple of magazine covers. As the 1980s became the 1990s, he designed and ran his own Connecticut Avenue shop, the Alberto Ucl?s Collection (The Washington Post once wrote that he “has found a following for his expressive fashion”).

Noll used to design window displays for department stores, and his creative handiwork can be seen in the installation of white bicycles in the small park at Rhode Island Avenue and First Streets NW. He wrote the children’s books “The Bicycle Fence” and “Selling Eggs” in the “Trash to Treasure” series. His home office is filled with the puppets he made and uses during instructional performances. His desk looks out over the detached garage behind an enviable, gorgeously landscaped and lighted (by Noll) brick patio, with another painted bicycle and colorful chickens on the garage’s tidy roof.

Even Noll’s truck is artful: It’s a 1950 Ford pickup painted with bright primary colors and cheerleading slogans (“Reduce,” “Reuse,” “Recycle”). The original engine is still under the hood.

“They told us not to replace it,” Noll says. “It will last forever. Just don’t go over 50.”

Ucl?s is entering his second three-year term as a volunteer commissioner with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and has worked in communications with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since 2001. Yes: There are government-friendly gray suits in his collection. He sheds them, and the stress of a job that grapples with recalls and fatalities, to go out.

“This magical act of changing from a navy suit changes my mentality,” Ucl?s says.

The colors and patterns are attention-getters, but Noll says he’s really interested now in “the play of textures.” Fabric was the original gateway 10 years ago when the duo began pursuing more flamboyant looks. Elegant but flat black became charcoal brocades, and the sky has been the visual limit since then.

They try not to repeat themselves, and the collection inspires endless combinations. Jackets can be set off by different vests or shirts, stocked in every color. Accessorizing can be as meaningful to the overall look as lights on a theatrical set. Noll and Ucl?s illustrate with pins (many by Mindy Lam) made of filmy fabric and/or bright jewels. Especially fascinating: ropy, flexible items that can be wrapped as a bracelet, draped as a necklace or even twisted into a bow tie.

“Everything is organized,” Ucl?s says with understatement. Jackets have been neatly paired and pulled together on rolling racks. Closets are packed high with carefully hung shirts and ties. Jewelry boxes neatly pile up on a side table.

They are willing and able to improve on some items; Noll hand-painted tiny pink cherry blossoms on two of their jackets. But they are also downshifting the acquisitions. The last jacket Noll bought was six months ago, the three-way sequin number.

The kicker: “It’s not that expensive,” Ucl?s insists. “You see something, you have to Google it.”

At a recent event, one admirer recently inquired what Noll paid for his extravagant look. Noll replied by asking the man the price of his natty but standard black jacket: $600. Noll, peacocking, was wearing a $58 jacket, $49 shoes and $19 pants.

The clothes don’t make these men; they reveal them. Noll and Ucl?s come across as exuberant, with a philosophy not of upstaging the art they’re attending, but of honoring it. They subscribe to old-world views of occasion, charm and formality, with an unbridled, hopefully infectious sense of fun. The outlook, like the outfits, is summarized by something Ucl?s says almost in passing: “It’s up to you to make life happen.”

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