Born in a middle-class Jewish family in highly anti-semitic Russia of 1902, little Nutya Kotlyrenko was shipped off to America at the age of eleven. At Ellis Island he took the Americanized surname his brother and cousins had already adopted, Cohn, and unable to write or spell his first name, he left Ellis Island with a botched version of it: Nudie.
‘I guess that the man never knew what a favor he did me by giving me that name,” Nudie wrote later in his life, “but it’s been a trademark for years. People are always impressed by an unusual name, and Nudie has suited me just fine.”
Nudie grew up poor in New York City’s garment district, apprenticing under tailors and dressmakers while dreaming of a career in music and movies. After years of traveling the United States working odd jobs, he wound up back in New York city making g-strings and burlesque costumes for strippers in Times Square at a shop called ‘Nudies for the Ladies’.
After a number of business ventures and financial hardships, the Russian immigrant who dreamed of being a singin’ cowboy moved out to San Fernando Valley along with his wife Bobbie, operating a small tailoring business out of their garage. Unable to afford a decent sewing machine or fabric to work on his own designs, Nudie decided in 1947 that country vocalist Tex Williams would be his springboard into burgeoning field of cowboy costuming.
The couple soon found celebrity by selling wildly embroidered, rhinestone-studded duds to cowboy stars, country singers and … Elvis Presley. (A $10,000 gold lamé number made the cover of Rolling Stone and netted a profit of $ 9,950.)
Not knowing of the story is true, its been said Bobbie inspired her husband for the logo the company used on its labels for more than 20 years; One evening in the early 1940’s, Bobbie emerged from the boudoir wearing nothing but a cowboy hat, boots and a holster and coyly asked her husband,”When are you going to make the rest of the outfit?’ The result was what became known as the ‘naked cowgirl’ label. After Nudie converted to Christianity around 1963, the cowgirl was clothed…, making the old-label garments collector’s items.
Nudie and Bobbie produced clothes for many famous celebrities, which are now museum pieces. Mr. Cohn died in 1984, Bobbie passed away in 2006. it is unclear which one of the couple came up with the Nudie motto: “It is better to be looked over than overlooked.”….
Other designs of Nudie’s rodeo tailors
Nudie’s rodeo tailor’s influence on fashion:
The Nudie style still inspires fashion designers like Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford, Miuccia Prada and for his first Balmain collection SS 2012, Olivier Rousteing looked to Nudie Cohn’s rhinestone-covered suits….
Miu Miu collection SS/2011
Balmain collection SS/2012
Fashion photographer Craig McDean filmed Amber Valetta in a humble salute to Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors.
In 2011, Belgian fashion museum MoMu presented Dreamsuits. Designs by Nudie Cohn, the Rodeo Tailor – featuring the collection of Bobbejaan Schoepen’ in the MoMu Gallery, an exhibition of fascinating outfits, accessories and ephemera by the legendary Nudie Cohn.