I will never forget the first time I saw José Alberto Uclés and Tom Noll. I was arriving at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall for a press night, and although I cannot recall what show I was running dangerously late to, I can remember them vividly.
The statuesque Noll and gregarious Uclés are memorable in their own right, but what so many Washingtonians have come to know them for is what initially caught my eye: their perfectly coordinated, truly unforgettable outfits. While the exact fabric and color of their suits that night escapes me, it was the attention to detail — down to the glitz and glamour of their matching shoes, ascots and lapel pins — that had me reeling.
Almost as remarkable as their outfits were the throngs of people surrounding them. They were the life of the party, and an energy emanated from them that I could feel from across the room. While their
sense of style is certainly impressive, it wasn’t what drew me to them. Instead, it was an unmistakable sense of joy they seemed to feel at being able to celebrate the performing arts on this particular evening. They didn’t strike me as inaccessible socialites. From what I could gather, they were simply enthusiastic patrons of the arts.
As the years went on and my attendance at cultural events around the city grew, I continued to see this magical couple command the room. Over time, Uclés — the unabashed social butterfly of the pair — and I began catching each other’s eye, nodding to one another as if to say, “You look fabulous, darling.”
And then one night, we were seated next to one another at “The Secret Garden,” also at Sidney Harman Hall. We both teared up during a particularly moving song, and when Uclés noticed my tears, he grabbed me by the hand and whispered in my ear, “I know honey, me too.”
Fast forward to this November, when I’m seated opposite the couple in their Bloomingdale brownstone that rivals their wardrobe as its own livable work of art. We’re eating brunch in their opulent dining room, painted a bright red and filled to the brim with golden masks, figures and orbs, when Uclés gently pauses our conversation.
He points out little flickers of rainbow light dancing around his favorite room, crediting the natural light pouring into the space. Noll smiles in agreement, and we all take a moment to enjoy the view. Uclés and Noll find beauty nearly everywhere they go and in almost everything they touch, and on frequent occasion, they invite us into their world and give us the opportunity to look through their colorful lens.
The Men Behind The Wardrobe
Once we finish brunch and relocate to the pair’s elaborate living room for our interview, I begin to bubble with excitement. I finally get to peel back the layers of this delightful onion. Many of us know this public-facing couple’s signa
ture style and frequent appearances at arts and culture events around the city. But who are the men behind the wardrobe?
Uclés and Noll have both lived in the D.C. area for more than 30 years, but their paths did not cross until 16 years ago when they met at a fundraiser for The Washington Ballet in Georgetown.
“He’s shy at first,” Uclés says of his husband. “I have always liked taller men, so I came over and said, ‘What a nice, tall glass of water you are.’”
Noll thought his future spouse was a little too forward, and yet, they got to know each other and “I never left,” he says, chuckling.
Two years into their relationship, Noll moved from his home in Manassas, Virginia into the Bloomingdale residence Uclés had bought a few years prior.
“We’ve been together since then,” Uclés says, adding that they tied the knot eight years into their relationship almost immediately after gay marriage was legalized.
Noll, an Ohio native who spent more than 20 years in Northern Virginia before becoming a D.C. resident, is a multihyphenate to the nth degree. The former landscaper is also an award-winning children’s book author and multimedia artist who can be found working on a sculpture one day and turning found objects into a piece of original art for a friend the next. He’s also passionate about community projects, most notably his “White Bicycle Fence” art installation located in Bloomingdale’s corner park on Rhode Island Avenue and First and T Streets, which he decorates seasonally and for notable holidays.
The local artist is soft-spoken and thoughtful, often laughing with his eyes before any sound comes out. Noll has a practicality to him, appreciating the elements of organized chaos that help keep many creatives sane like punctuality and occasional, albeit brief, bouts of rest.
The yin to his yang, Uclés couldn’t be more his opposite. He is a rare breed of extrovert, the kind that recharges their batteries after too much people time with even more people time. His art form, while less tangible than his partner’s, is equally impressive: planning and maintaining their robust social calendar to promote and support the local arts community.
Uclés hails from San Pedro Sula, Honduras and moved to the States for college in Indiana. He visited D.C. during spring break and fell in love with our cherry blossoms — and ultimately, the city’s vibrant arts and culture scene. He has spent 21 years as the Hispanic outreach spokesperson and public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“I feel blessed and lucky to help spread the traffic safety campaigns and messages that save so many lives in our Hispanic community in the U.S.,” he says, “paired with the amazing opportunities given to us to be part of such a diverse and awesome group of artmakers and supporters through our artsy and cultural adventures. We are so fulfilled and grateful.”
The couple’s complementary professional pursuits and personal interests seemed destined to intertwine, culminating in a partnership that far exceeds their romantic relationship. They have become cultural connectors in the District, thoughtfully curating every waking moment outside of their day jobs to have a presence at arts events around the city.
We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead
Uclés and Noll meticulously select every single outfit with one shared goal in mind: to represent and pay homage to the event they are attending or the local creative they are celebrating. Actors, artists and cultural leaders often notice parallels in the couple’s attire and their own art, which is a revelation they readily welcome.
At a recent show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, an artist approached Noll and said, “Oh my god, your jacket matches my art.”
He immediately offered the artist his jacket for a photo op with his wife. Similarly, Uclés proudly shares the story of bumping into an opera singer in the bathroom during intermission at a Washington Opera Society performance.
His jacket was so perfectly themed for the subject matter of the opera that the singer jokingly said, “I love your jacket. That’s what I should be wearing up there.”
Uclés swapped jackets without hesitation, blending into the crowd during the second act in his new friend’s everyday tux while the singer rocked the showstopper onstage. His new look was a total hit, and Uclés couldn’t have been more thrilled.
“Our way of dressing is to honor the artmakers, art supporters and people who are performing,” Uclés says. “I tend to look at events and think, ‘Can we push the envelope? If it’s an art exhibit, what are the colors of it? How can we complement the event?’”
Uclés selects jackets from their vast collection and Noll styles them, completing the look. Their whimsical sense of fashion is an intentional conversation piece. The pair wants to be noticed, and they want their style to convey approachability.
Noll’s a showman, leaning toward more artistic looks and always searching for an opportunity to don his steampunk-inspired outfits. He’s also crafty: Noll has applied finishing touches to many of the couple’s pieces in order to complete the look. Taking a paint brush to a jacket is a common occurrence in their home.
“I want elegant but I want pushing the button,” Noll says. “By the time the party’s over, [Uclés] knows everybody. I want to dress [in a way] that either somebody interesting is going to say, ‘I want to know that person,’ or walk away from me and want nothing to do with me — one or the other.”
Noll is always open to making connections but remains firm that he’s unapologetic about his style choices. In fact, a major motivation for him is inspiring friends, peers and strangers alike to get a little bolder with their own wardrobes.
Uclés says his style is colorful but elegant — and a little louder than his partner’s. This translates well to his larger-than-life personality.
“He’s a butterfly pollinating everything,” Noll says. “He never judges anybody. He’s always looking out for everybody he meets.”
They are enamored with D.C.’s creative community, walking me through some of their favorite theatre productions, galas and art openings in recent history. And unlike some of the who’s who of Washington, the couple is equally excited to show up in style to an embassy event as they are to an art show in support of local students. Every invitation is meaningful, and they try to make an appearance at as many events as possible.
“We like art of all kinds,” Uclés says. “We’re always in for an adventure — an experience — because we firmly believe we learn by experiencing things and being part of this amazing art community. I do find that D.C.’s arts community is very united. It takes a village.”
While the amount of events the couple attends ebbs and flows based on busy season for the arts world — April, September and October, according to the duo — they are generally out and about five nights a week. Uclés says they’re trying to take it a bit slower, though: They try not to squeeze in more than one event a night, unless it’s a can’t-miss opportunity.
Some jacket pockets include a notecard with details about the last event they wore an outfit to, and they always have their impressively active social media accounts to fall back on if they need a refresh. While outfits do have repeat performances, they are spaced out with great care and attention — just like every detail of their looks.
“While I’m alive, I will do as much as I can to help connect people because it makes us come alive when we do these events — even though we become tired,” Uclés says.
He pulls a little piece of art with an adage on it from his refrigerator, tells me it’s his favorite quote and reads it to me: “God put me on this earth to do a few things. I’m so far behind, I’ll never die.”
There’s No Place Like Home
While Uclés may steal the show at arts events, it’s Noll who has made a name for the pair in their neighborhood. When he moved in with Uclés 14 years ago, he immediately started a beautification project at Bloomingdale’s corner park. Within two years, with the enthusiastic blessing of nearby businesses and store owners, he relocated and reconfigured his “White Bicycle Fence” art installation that had garnered much attention outside of his Manassas home.
“It’s got an audience,” Noll says of his installation. “People are like, ‘Oh my god, I wondered who did that. How long have you been doing that? It really makes the neighborhood.’ It just brings joy. It’s for the kids.”
Uclés is quick to say that Noll does this out of the kindness of his heart, and in no way expects a community effort to support the project. He updates the fence as frequently as three times a month, depending on the season and upcoming holidays. His current installation, “Let’s Go Fishing,” is inspired by an aquarium, a blend of vibrant fish and hula hoops wrapped in blue fabric. Often, he’s creating parts of his installations in their garage or sprawling out in the living room with all of the necessary materials.
His superpower is connecting with kids, whether it’s through his “Trash to Treasure” children’s book series or putting together a mini library by the “White Bicycle Fence.”
Pre-pandemic, he visited nearby elementary schools to read stories and perform puppet shows for kindergarteners and first graders. Now, he’s working on building his own mini library outside of their home, complete with a wish box so kids can leave a note about a book they really want and he can find it for them.
This generosity of spirit starts inside their home, a colorful world they’ve created together that is truly representative of what they love. Uclés and Noll love to entertain, and the self-described “Artsy Fashion Peacocks” of D.C. even invite friends in the arts community to check out their new walk-in “Peacock Closet” on occasion.
The former guest bedroom is truly a work of art, with nearly 500 color-coordinated and flawlessly organized suit jackets, 250 shirts, 160 vests, 115 pairs of shoes, 90 cufflink sets and 84 ascots — not to mention dress pants, artsy jeans, bow ties, handkerchiefs, brooches and lapel pins. It is in many ways their pièce de resistance, and for good reason, but I’m much more captivated by their upstairs hallway.
Noll, who graciously counted for me, says there are 158 pieces of art lining the hallway walls floor to ceiling and 86 in his bedroom. When I ask for a ballpark number for the total number in the house, Noll says about 1,000.
The recurring theme of peacocks in the couple’s home was inspired by legendary New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who coined the term “peacocking” for men who dress to the nines — and uniquely. The photographer captured men who were increasingly forgoing the boring tux or drab suit and transforming themselves into style icons.
From depictions of Marilyn Monroe and Frida Kahlo and paintings from local artists like Maggie O’Neill upstairs to a massive Moulin Rouge canvas painting in the living room — which Noll bedazzled with additional rhinestones just for fun — each nook and cranny of their home is meant, just like their outfits, to inspire dialogue and connection.
“We believe in community engagement, cross-cultural collaboration and giving back,” Uclés says. “I look forward to continuing to bring joy and whimsy, and to inspire others to follow their artsy souls.”
I had the opportunity to walk through the “Peacock Closet” a few months ago with several peers in the arts community, dipping a toe into what would ultimately become this interview. The consummate gentleman, Uclés walked me to the door, gave me a warm goodbye hug and said, “Life is too short to fit into a little box.”
I couldn’t agree more, my friend.
Follow Uclés and Noll on Facebook @ArtsyFashionPeacocksDC and Instagram @artsyfashionpeacocks. And if you spot them in fabulous attire at a D.C. event, stop and say hi to the friendliest arts and culture enthusiasts you’ll ever meet.