History of Nudie Suits, Ties & Boots
Nudie Cohn was a Ukrainian-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.
'During a ten year period as Grand Ole Opry performers, Pee Wee and the Cowboys often roused the ire of old-guard Opry officials. The entire group took to wearing "Nudie suits" (flashy, uniquely-designed custom made outfits made in Hollywood by designer Nudie Cohn), a shocking spectacle by the standards of the ultra-conservative stage show, though it put King and the 'boys ahead of the trend that would be commonplace in 1950s country and western fashion. King had an electric guitarist in the group for a time and even worked drummer "Sticks" McDonald into his Opry act, a no-no in those days that got him into further hot water; as time went on he added brass musicians and guaranteed a good time for all...everyone, that is, except stodgy country music purists.' (Courtesy: Michael Jack Kirby)
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.
Cohn'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. Cohn 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.
Gram Parsons' legendary Nudie suit, on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame
Cohen 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, Pee Wee King, Redd Stewart, George Jones, Cher, Ronald Reagan, Elton John, Robert Mitchum, Pat Buttram, Tony Curtis, Michael Landon, Glen Campbell, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, and numerous musical groups, notably America and Chicago. ZZ Top band members Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill 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 Belgian entertainer Bobbejaan Schoepen was a client and personal friend; his collection of 35 complete stage outfits is the largest in Europe.
Cohn 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."
Redd Stewart Nudie Suits & Boots
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