Nudie Cohn, Ukrainian Designer who created American West style. Tribute by Eleonora de Gray, Editor-in-Chief of RUNWAY MAGAZINE.
In the XXI century we are witnessing the horrors of Russian aggression against Ukrainian nation. Russian president and millions of Russians who support him in committing the crime against humanity: killing, raping, torturing, enslaving… 144 million people on this planet think that other nations on this planet are “not humans”, as Ukrainians were called by Russian President in his resent Ester Speech. 144 million people raised new generation by this doctrine, who are proud and honored for these crimes. Even head of the Russian Church (Patriarch) uses the name of God to support it, calling this war “Holly struggle”, “Sacred act”, bestowing blessings on the soldiers who rape, torture and kill children…
These people don’t even know their own history – the story of the Russians started in the middle ages, and it started in Kiev, today’s the capital of Ukraine. Ukraine is the heart and source of Russia, whom they are trying to lobotomize, and basically to commit suicide.
It is hard to imagine how many young and talented people were killed during these 2 months of war. Ukraine was always rich by great and talented people. This story is about one Ukrainian, who created American Country Style in 1950s, his designs became known to the whole world and until today are still trending… His style is still inspiring many fashion designers like Jeremy Scott, Moschino, for example.
Do you love denim jackets with embroidered flowers on them? How popular they are and especially today! Do you know who first created this style?
Do you know who dressed Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Dolly Parton, The Beatles, ZZ Top…? Nuta Kotlyarenko, known as Nudie Cohn.
Nudie Cohn is known as an American designer, who created fabulous rhinestone-embroidered suits, known as “Nudie’s Suits”, and other elaborate outfits for some of the most famous celebrities of that era.
Look closely at these embroideries. These designs inspired by national Ukranian embroidery. And they became the West American Style, known to the whole world, as Wearable American Country Style!
Nudie’s Suits and how it all started
Nuta Kotlyarenko (1902 – 1984) was born in Kiev. In 1913 his parents sent him and his brother Julius to the United States. He married Helen Barbara Kruger (1913 -2006), also known as Bobbie Nudie, an American clothing designer and retailer. The couple moved to California in 1940 and carried out clothing manufacturing. And that is how American Country style was born.
In 1947 Nudie Cohn persuaded a country singer Tex Williams to buy him a sewing machine in exchange for clothes made for him.
Nudie Cohn and his wife opened “Nudie’s of Hollywood” on the corner of Victory Boulvard and Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood, dealing exclusively in western wear, a style very much in fashion at the time.
Nudie 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”.
Iconic Looks of Nudie Cohn
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.
Nudie Cohn designed Hank Williams’ white cowboy costume with musical notes on the sleeves. Belgian artist Bobbejaan Schoepen was a client and personal friend; his collection of 35 complete stage outfits is the largest in Europe. Nudie Cohn created the Gram Parsons costume for the cover of “The Gilded Palace of Sin” album and “Flying Burrito Brothers” in 1969. This costume had pills, poppies, marijuana leaves, female nudes, and a huge cross.
Nudie Cohn designed the iconic costume worn by Robert Redford in the 1979 film “Electric Horseman” which was displayed in Oklahoma City at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Most of the movie costumes worn by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were Nudie’s designs.
John Lennon was a client, as were John Wayne, Gene Autry, George Jones, Cher, Ronald Reagan, Elton John, Robert Mitchum, Pat Buttram, Tony Curtis, Michael Landon, Glen Campbell, Michael Nesmith, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, and many musical groups, including America and Chicago. ZZ Top members Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill wore Nudie costumes in the cover photo of their 1975 Fandango album!
Nudie 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.”
Nudie Cohn designs, especially those from celebrities, remain popular with country/western and show business collectors, and continue to fetch high prices when they hit the market.
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.
A Nudie Cohn shirt worn by Johnny Cash as Grand Marshal of the 1976 Great American Bicentennial Parade in Washington, DC, and in several subsequent stage performances, sold at auction for $25,000 in 2010.
In December 2009, for example, a white Nudie Cohn stage shirt owned by Roy Rogers, decorated with blue tassels and red musical notes, sold for $16,250 at a Christie’s auction.
Nudie Cohn is fictionalized in Derek McCormack’s 2003 novel The Haunted Hillbilly.
He is still a legend, a trendsetter, the designer who created American Country Style.
This article was published with the hope and admiration to Ukrainian spirit, genius and talent.