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Nudie Put the Rhinestones on Cowboys

VALLEY 200: To commemorate the bicentennial of the San Fernando Mission and the San Fernando Valley, for 200 days we will feature people --some famous, some notorious-- who left their mark on the area.

July 10, 1997|SUSAN ABRAM

Clothier Nudie Cohn once lit up the Hollywood scene with his fashion ideas.

The tailor of custom-made Western wear transformed stars of western movies and country singers into glittering icons with his rhinestone- and diamond-studded creations.

Nudie, as he became known professionally, tailored fine suits on a regular basis for on-screen cowboys such as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and Clint Eastwood. But his most memorable pieces were those that expanded the borders of fashion, such as Elvis' 24-karat gold lame suit, which cost $10,000 and was seen on the cover of the album "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong."

Born to a bootmaker in Russia in 1902, Nuta Kotlyarenko immigrated to New York on his own at age 11. He moved to California at 16 to become a boxer, then in 1928 hitchhiked back to New York. On the way he met his future wife, Bobbie, in Mankato, Minn., and the two married in 1933.

Nudie got work at a women's garment company in New York, creating specialty costumes and G-strings for strippers. But Hollywood beckoned and the couple eventually moved to Los Angeles just as western wear was catching on in the fashion world.

In 1947, Nudie and Bobbie opened a tailor shop on Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood. Early customers included Dale Evans, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

In 1963, the one-time prizefighter opened Nudie's Rodeo Tailors Inc. on Lankershim Boulevard. The 6,600-square-foot retail shop specialized in custom-made boots and clothing.

Nudie died in 1984, but Bobbie kept the shop open until 1994.

These days, Nudie's sparkling touches are displayed at country and western-themed establishments, such as Universal CityWalk's Country Star restaurant, and with the Nudie's Rodeo Tailors and Western Equipment Collection at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Griffith Park.

His creativity, writes biographer Tyler Beard, "influenced the western-wear industry for 40 years."

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