His name may suggest otherwise, but Nudie was all about the threads.
Nudie Cohn, aka Nudie the Rodeo Tailor, designed clothes for Hollywood cowboys, musicians, and — as you’ll see later in this post — an equestrian.
The odds are good you’ve seen his work. He stamped mid-20th century pop culture with embroidery and sequins.
Although he passed away in 1984 and his store closed ten years later, his work sparkles in memory, especially for music fans and history devotees. Think about the following iconic images of pop music.
Elvis’s gold suit?
Michael Jackson’s glove?
Yup. A Nudie design.
He’s been the subject of many articles recently, with wonderful quotes from his grand-daughter and keeper-of-the-flame Jamie Cohn, who, yes, changed her name to honer her grandfather.
A Nudie revival
Collector’s Weekly scored a great interview with Jamie and has a lot of images of Nudie designs, many of which the family donated to the Autry Museum. Nudie was the subject of a recent article in American Airlines’s inflight magazine.
Plus, according to the Nashville Tennessean, Nudie’s Honky Tonk is slated to open Summer 2016 in Music City.
The story behind his name
As the story goes, a young Ukrainian immigrant named Nutya got his name because of a mispronunciation by an immigration officer. He began his tailoring career for entertainers by designing outfits to be taken off on stage for New York strippers. He later moved to California, where his work broadened scope to include musicians.
He always honored his humble beginnings by wearing a mismatched pair of boots.
It all started with a horse …
To get his start tailoring for musicians, Nudie offered to make a suit for Tex Williams, who lived in the same town, if Tex would pay for the materials. Tex didn’t reach into his pocket but sold a horse and gave Nudie the proceeds. There’s more to the story, the work didn’t go according to plan, but what happened shows Nudie’s grit, which you’ll see if you clicked on the link. Once Tex took the stage in his new threads, Nudie’s career took off.
Not just western
He also designed a rhinestone show coat in 1966 for horse show exhibitor Deedy Decker that’s on display at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Museum.
The coat is legendary enough to have merited a re-enactment of its presentation at both the 2013 and 2015 TWH National Celebration with Lilly Waites in the irons.
According to the re-enactment script, Deedy’s stepfather Don Decker and owner of Horse Haven Farms in Omaha, Nebraska, commissioned Nudie to make the coat for her as a surprise gift.
She was in the Celebration warm-up ring with her horse Second Time Around, when her father sent young Allan Callaway into the ring with a coat bag over his arm.
The script says he opened the garment bag “with a flourish” and helped her into the 30-lb coat. She and Second Time Around won their world championship class.
According to this Kansas City Times article about the 1961 American Royal horse show, Deedy was a veteran horse show exhibitor and champion already and, as history has demonstrated, a fan favorite.
The coat weighs 30 lbs, more than 2 st for our readers in the UK, so imagine riding and competing in it while maintaining your seat and balance.
In 2015, the coat went back to work when Lilly road Lined Walkin’ to win the World Grand Champion Walking Pony title.
In 2016, the coat will be fifty years old. Nudie’s threads were built to last.
In the home of the rhinestone coat
My photo, taken with a phone camera, doesn’t do the coat justice. The coat is covered in rhinestones and shimmers under arena lights, as demonstrated by a display photo up by the coat’s right shoulder.
A better look is at 3:51 in this video by the “What A Horse” cable access show, reporting on the museum receiving historic films for its archive. If you watch the rest of the video, you’ll have a mini tour of the museum, located in Wartrace, TN.
The rhinestone show coat is another example of how Nudie’s designs are the stuff of legend.