The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened a new spotlight exhibit dedicated to legendary fashion designer Nudie Cohn on October 28. The “Silver Threads and Golden Needles: Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors” exhibit will run through November 2012. The exhibit traces Nudie’s journey across America from designing burlesque costumes in New York to opening his shop in North Hollywood. Gene Autry, Elton John, Gram Parsons, Elvis Presley, Roy Rogers and Hank Williams are among the artists who wore Nudie’s designs.
Born Nutya Kotlyrenko in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1902, Nudie immigrated to the United States when he was 11. He became ‘Nudie’ when immigration officials mistranslated his first name. His first job was shining shoes in Brooklyn and in 1918, he headed to California where he worked as a movie extra and film cutter before returning east. On his way back, he met Bobbie Kruger, whom he would later marry. The couple moved to New York, where Nudie found work designing burlesque costumes with his brother.
The Cohns returned to the west coast in the 1940s where they ran a small tailoring shop out of their Los Angeles-area garage for seven years. In 1947, Tex Williams commissioned ten outfits for his band from Nudie. With Tex’s endorsement, business started rolling in and Nudie opened his famous Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors. His slogan was ‘Everything for the Horse and Rider,’ though he began to cater to country artists and stars of western movies.
Nudie found his niche in the industry with the creation of a rhinestone-accented suit for Lefty Frizzell and began creating custom outfits for performers. He designed wagon-wheel suits for Porter Wagoner, Native-American motifs for Ray Price and a railroad-themed suit for Hank Snow inspired by Hank’s hit “The Golden Rocket.”
Working with embroidery specialist Rose Clements and fashion designer and one-time son-in-law Manuel, Nudie also designed instruments, cars, rugs and other items. Nudie was as much a celebrity as any of his clients and was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1969. He passed away of kidney failure in 1984.
Some of the artifacts featured in “Silver Threads and Golden Needles: Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors” include Rex Allen’s shiny green suit, Freddie Hart’s blue western shirt with heart-shaped yoke and matching pants, Billy Mize’s western-cut suit and ten pairs of boots, Marty Robbins’ yellow jacket and pants and matching boots, Carl Smith’s western suit, Merle Travis’ embroidered guitar shirt with tie and several of Nudie’s costume studies on illustration boards.
Spotlight exhibits such as Nudie’s are narratives that supplement the Museum’s core exhibition, Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music. The short-term, informal displays provide a closer look at an artist or spotlight recently donated items. Other spotlight exhibits currently on display in the museum include a focus on the Academy of Country Music Awards, Bobby Braddock, Reba McEntire, Bill Monroe, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Jean Shepard, Carrie Underwood, Porter Wagoner and Hank Williams Jr.