Nudie Coln (The Nudie Suits)

Nudie Cohn – Example of a Nudie Suit (Nudie Coln Left)

Nuta Kotlyarenko, known professionally as 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 was born in Kiev on December 15, 1902 to a Ukrainian Jewish family. His parents had to send him at age 11 with his brother Julius to America, to escape from the pogroms of Czarist Russia. For a time he criss-crossed the country, working as a shoe shine boy and later a boxer. He lived in a boardinghouse in Minnesota, where he met Hellen “Bobbie” Kruger, marrying her in 1934. In the midst of the great Depression, the couple moved to New York, where they opened their first shop, called “Nudies for the Ladies”, specialising in custom made undergarments for showgirls.

In the early 1940s, Cohn and Kruger relocated to California, where they started designing and manufacturing their clothing in their garage. In 1947, Cohn persuaded Tex Williams, who at the time was a struggling country singer, to buy him a sewing machine from the money he received from an auctioned horse. Cohn made clothing for him in exchange, to wear at his gigs. As their clothing started becoming popular, they open a store on the corner of Victoria and Vineland in North Holywood, called “Nudies of Hollywood”. The store specialised in the selling of western wear, which was the current trend at that time. In 1963 the Cohn’s relocated their business to a larger facility on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood and renamed it “Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors”.

Nudie Cohn suits taken the flamboyant western style to the next level showy design and vividness, with his free use of rhinestones and themed images in chain stitch embroidery. In 1962, he designed a suit for the singer Porter Wagoner, for free, confident that popular performer will be a bill board for his designs, which did work well in his favour, with the business expanding more rapidly. The suit was a peach coloured suit, featuring rhinestones, a covered wagon and wagon wheels on the legs. Cohn’s designs became signature looks for their owners, like a brand equivalent to Nike now days. Among his famous designs was the $10,000 gold lame suit, which he designed for Elvis Presley, which the singer wore on the cover of his album “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong”.

Nudie suits are certainly very colourful and elaborate, with beautiful intricate detail stitched in. In connection to my project, this elaborate style does provide a platform to explore many directions to incorporating, in my case, nature and maths inspired patterns as well as repeat patterns onto clothing. With modern day technology, there are a number of ways that can be explored, if looking in the future to print or stitch my own elaborate patterns into a clothing range, whether it is from hand embroidery, or heat press, sublimation printing or silkscreen. For now, I am keeping my swatch book based on wallpaper design, for this particular project. However, there is nothing stopping from continuing my exploration in ways of manufacturing and using my own range of patterns as a designer maker in the forthcoming future.

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