December 15, 1902
|Died||May 9, 1984(aged 81)|
|Known for||Nudie Suits|
|Labels||Nudie's Rodeo Tailors|
Nuta Kotlyarenko, known professionally as Nudie Cohn (December 15, 1902 – May 9, 1984), was a Ukraine-born American tailor who designed decorative rhinestone-covered suits, known popularly as "Nudie Suits", and other elaborate outfits for some of the most famous celebrities of his era. He also became famous for his outrageous customized automobiles.
Kotlyarenko was born in Kiev on December 15, 1902. To escape the pogroms of Czarist Russia, his parents sent him at age 11, with his brother, Julius, to America. For a time he criss-crossed the country, working as a shoeshine boy and later a boxer, and hanging out, he later claimed, with the gangster Pretty Boy Floyd. While living in a boardinghouse in Minnesota he met Helen "Bobbie" Kruger, and married her in 1934. In the midst of the Great Depression the newlyweds moved to New York City and opened their first store, "Nudie's for the Ladies", specializing in custom-made undergarments for showgirls.
Nudie and Bobbie relocated to California in the early 1940s, and began designing and manufacturing clothing in their garage. In 1947 Cohn persuaded a young, struggling country singer named Tex Williams to buy him a sewing machine with the proceeds of an auctioned horse. In exchange, Cohn made clothing for Williams. As their creations gained a following, the Cohns opened "Nudie's of Hollywood" on the corner of Victory and Vineland in North Hollywood, dealing exclusively in western wear, a style very much in fashion at the time.
Nudie's designs brought the already-flamboyant western style to a new level of ostentation with the liberal use of rhinestones and themed images in chain stitch embroidery. One of his early designs, in 1962, for singer Porter Wagoner, was a peach-colored suit featuring rhinestones, a covered wagon on the back, and wagon wheels on the legs. He offered the suit to Wagoner for free, confident that the popular performer (like Tex Williams) would serve as a billboard for his clothing line. His confidence proved justified and the business grew rapidly. In 1963 the Cohns relocated their business to a larger facility on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood and renamed it "Nudie's Rodeo Tailors".
Many of Cohn's designs became signature looks for their owners. Among his most famous creations was Elvis Presley's $10,000 gold lamé suit, worn by the singer on the cover of his 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong album. He designed the iconic costume worn by Robert Redford in the 1979 film Electric Horseman, which is now owned and exhibited by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. He created Hank Williams' white cowboy suit with musical notations on the sleeves, and Gram Parsons' infamous suit for the cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers' 1969 album The Gilded Palace of Sin, featuring pills, poppies, marijuana leaves, naked women, and a huge cross. Many of the film costumes worn by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were Nudie designs. John Lennon was a customer, as were John Wayne, Gene Autry, George Jones, Cher, Ronald Reagan, Elton John, Robert Mitchum, Pat Buttram, Tony Curtis, Michael Landon, Glen Campbell, Hank Snow, and numerous musical groups, notably America and Chicago. The members of ZZ Top sported "Nudie Suits" on the cover photo of their 1975 album Fandango! In 2006 Porter Wagoner said he had accumulated 52 Nudie Suits, costing between $11,000 and $18,000 each, since receiving his first free outfit in 1962. The European entertainer Bobbejaan Schoepen was a client and personal friend; his collection of 35 complete stage outfits is the largest in Europe.
Nudie strutted around town in his own outrageous suits and rhinestone-studded cowboy hats. His sartorial trademark was mismatched boots, which he wore, he said, to remember his humble beginnings in the 1930s when he could not afford a matching pair of shoes. He shamelessly promoted himself and his products throughout his career. According to his granddaughter, Jamie Lee Nudie (a self-promoter in her own right who changed her last name to her grandfather's first name), he would often pay for items with dollar bills sporting a sticker of his face covering George Washington's. "When you get sick of looking at me," he would say, "just rip [the sticker] off and spend it."
Cohn was equally famous for his garishly-decorated automobiles. Between 1950 and 1975 he customized 18 vehicles, mostly white Pontiac Bonneville convertibles, with silver-dollar-studded dashboards, pistol door handles and gearshifts, extended rear bumpers, and enormous longhorn steer horn hood ornaments. They were nicknamed "Nudie Mobiles", and the nine surviving cars have become valued collector's items. A Bonneville convertible designed for country singer Webb Pierce is on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. A Pontiac Grand Ville convertible customized by Nudie can be seen at the end of the 1988 Buck Owens/Dwight Yoakam music video, "The Streets of Bakersfield." That same car—which Owens's manager claims was originally built for Elvis Presley—now hangs over the bar inside Buck Owens's Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, California. Two Nudie Mobiles owned by Schoepen remain on display at Bobbejaanland, a Western-themed amusement park near Brussels.
Death and legacy
Nudie Cohn died in 1984 at the age of 81. Numerous celebrities and long-time customers attended his funeral. The eulogy was delivered by Dale Evans. Nudie's Rodeo Tailors remained open for an additional ten years under the ownership of Nudie's widow Bobbie and granddaughter Jamie, and closed in 1994.
Cohn's creations, particularly those with celebrity provenance, remain popular with Country/Western and show business collectors, and continue to command high prices when they come on the market. In December 2009, for example, a white Nudie stage shirt owned by Roy Rogers, decorated with blue tassels and red musical notes, sold for $16,250 at a Christie's auction.
- Dixon, Chris (September 4, 2005). "A Rhinestone Cowboy Who Grabbed Cars by the Horns.". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-25. "Cohn made his mark by adorning Western-cut suits with galaxies of rhinestones, forests of fringe and symphonies of sparkling oversize G clefs. He fitted Elvis in gold lamé; created a shocking ensemble for Gram Parsons, the proto-country rocker, embellished with pills and marijuana leaves; designed hundreds of shirts for Roy Rogers; and parked a star-studded 10-gallon hat on Elton John."
- Nudie, Jamie Lee; Cabrall, Mary Lynn (2004). Nudie: the Rodeo tailor. Smith, Gibbs Publisher. ISBN 978-1-58685-381-5. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
- Beard, Tyler (2001). 100 Years of Western Wear, p. 72. Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City. ISBN 0-87905-591-X.
- Oklahoma City Museum Exhibits “Electric Horseman” Suit. NewsOK.com Retrieved 2010-09-28.
- Nudie Cohn, Rhinestone Cowboy. The Selvedge Yard Retrieved 2010-09-28.
- Deni, Laura (2009-05-17). 2009.html "Broadway To Vegas". Retrieved 2010-08-26.[dead link]
- Designs by Nudie Cohn – the Rodeo Tailor — Featuring the collection of Bobbejaan Schoepen
- http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/cowboy-couture-nudie-cohn-at-momu/ Cowboy Couture l Nudie Cohn at Mode Museum New York Times by Nancy Macdonell – October 26, 2011.
- DREAMSUITS. The Wonderful World of Nudie Cohn - Mairi MacKenzie. Publisher Lannoo, 2011.
- "Nudie, The Man Who Set Rhinestones in Fashion History." Nudie's Rodeo Tailor Web site. Retrieved 2010-09-28.
- Holt, Jim (July 12, 2008): "The Past Returns on Mothers Day." Santa Clarita Valley Signal archives Retrieved 2010-09-28.
- Schoepen, T. Bobbejaan (The Ultimate Book of his Life and Work). Belgium, Uitgeverij Kannibaal, 2011.
- Lot 14, Sale 2276 (December 3, 2009). Christies.com. Retrieved 2010-09-28.
- Nudie's Rodeo Tailors official site
- Made In Hollywood: A Tribute to Nudie - fashion film featuring Nicky Panicci
- Nudie's Rodeo Tailors Archive at the Autry National Center
- Nudie Cohn at Find a Grave