Good morning and welcome to another educational installment at the Blog of Funny Names. On this sunny, flower-blooming spring day, it only seems fitting to post about this colorful character. As his Nudie-mobile proudly proclaims, that’s Nudie Cohn!
Now don’t you go thinking this has anything to do with Live! Nude! Girls! No, folks, this here is the original rodeo tailor, creator of rhinestone-covered suits worn by everyone from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans to John Lennon, ZZ Top, k.d. lang, and Elton John. So who was this little man and how did he outfit celebrities for 50 years? Let’s dive right in!
Born in 1902 in the Ukraine as Nuta Kotlyarenko, Nudie Cohn rose to fame as the creator of the “Nudie Suit.” When he was 11, his mother, Pearl, sent him and brother Julius to America to escape Czarist Russia, telling them the streets of America were paved with gold. Little did she know, little Nuta would one day make a $10,000 gold lame suit for a young rocker named Elvis Presley.
Nuta’s older brother Sam had arrived in Brooklyn earlier that year, shortening his last name to Cohn. When Nuta was processed at Ellis Island, his name was mangled by an agent who proclaimed him Nudie Cohn. He would later declare that the agent did him a great favor that day.
Nudie, who had apprenticed as a tailor in Russia, settled into Brooklyn, using his skills, dreaming about becoming a cowboy star, like his idol, Tom Mix. As Nudie entered his teen years, he worked odd jobs, including boxing in exhibition matches, billed as “Battling Nudie” at an intimidating 106 pounds. He traveled the nation back and forth, eventually winding up at a boardinghouse in Mankato, Minnesota, where he fell for the owner’s 18-year-old daughter, Helen. He was 30.
They married in 1933 and the next year opened Nudie’s for the Ladies near Times Square, where they outfitted burlesque queens and strippers. By the 40s, they sold the business and set up a tailor shop in Hollwood, California. He sought out country-western musician Tex Williams, who had just left Spade Cooley’s (another awesome name) band. Nudie was paid $850 to outfit Tex and his Western Caravan, and his career took off.
Roy and Dale became regular customers, but Nudie remained popular with stars as the decades passed.
Here he is with clients and friends over the years.
Nudie created the wardrobe for Bye Bye Birdie, designed Hank Williams’ white suit with musical notes, a wagon-covered suit for Porter Wagoner, and the iconic costume worn by Robert Redford in Electric Horseman. Stars loved his suits as much as his outrageous personality, and his close friends included Michael Landon and Merv Griffin.
According to his granddaughter, Jamie Lee, he often bought 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 passed in 1984 at the age of 81, and Dale Evans delivered the eulogy. His legacy continues in the very fabric that he stitched, including a white Nudie shirt owned by Roy Rogers, which sold for over $16,000 at a Christie’s auction. Go, Nudie!