Interview: Jamie Lee Nudie, Grandaughter of the Great Nudie Cohn
By some complete stroke of luck we've somehow managed to get an interview with Jamie Lee Nudie, the granddaughter of the one and only Nudie Cohn. Who’s he? Well he’s only the man responsible for some of the best suits made in the last 3000 years. As the mastermind behind the ‘rhinestone cowboy’ look, Nudie’s customer list was a regular who’s who of Nashville warblers and country bumpkins. Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, John Wayne, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash, Robert Redford, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley and George Harrison all sported his glitzy designs at one point or another, along with about pretty much anyone else you can think of. He also made some of the best custom cars going.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand, we grilled his granddaughter on his suits, his clients and what it was like getting driven around in a custom cow-horn sedan.
And if you’re a bit confused, Nudie Cohn has nothing to do with Nudie Jeans Co.
First of all, how are you today?
Your grandfather was the great Nudie Cohn. For people who might not be aware, can you explain what exactly his Nudie suits were?
His name was Nudie, so that's why they are called Nudie suits!
Fair enough. He made suits for everyone from Gram Parsons to Robert Redford. Who did he like working with the most?
He never really had a favourite. All of his clients became his friends, and some closer than others — They became family friends!
Nudie with Gram Parsons
Which is your favourite of his designs?
I love them all! However, I would say that there are several that get lots of press — Hank Williams Sr's suit, Elvis’s Gold Lamé suit in 1957, and the Gram Parsons Marijuana suit!
The Flying Burrito Brothers in some pretty full on Nudie suits on the back cover of their 1969 album, The Gilded Palace of Sin. Nice pterodactyl wizard sweatshirt from Sneeky Pete as well.
It’s fair to say his designs were far from ordinary. Where did he get his ideas from?
When he emigrated here from Kiev, Russia, he spent a lot of time in New York with his older brother. He would go to the movie theatre to watch old western films. He said, he felt they were missing something. So, the Nudie suit was born by adding rhinestones to his suits! He wanted the stars to be noticed from far away.
Robert Redford in the 1979 film, The Electric Horseman
Do you still have any of his suits?
Yes, I do. I have many of his suits, his unmatched pair of boots, and all of his personal possessions.
Nudie wore unmatched boots to commemorate his humble beginnings. He never had new shoes growing up. He would get a shoe here and there, so when he made it to the top he said he would always wear mismatched boots to remember the hard times!
He also made 18 custom sedans known as ‘Nudie Mobiles’. Are any of these still in action?
I have two of his Nudie Mobiles. I've got the last one that was made for my grandmother Bobbie, a 1975 Cadillac El Dorado convertible and the one he made for my mother to drive me around in as a kid — a 1964 Pontiac Bonneville Safari station wagon. The Cadi', my grandmother left to me when she passed, and the wagon was given to me from a man in Canada who owned it. He said it belonged to me and knew I should have it. He delivered it to me four years ago on Mother’s Day with a bill of sale for ONE dollar!
Webb Pierce and his custom Pontiac, complete with silver dollar lined interior
Do you drive around in these?
The Nudie mobiles do drive around! I would take the Nudie wagon out on the weekends, and the Nudie Cadi' had been in the museum on display! However, now that's it’s in the new museum closer to home, it’s for hire. Great times!
Where do you think his inspiration came from with these?
He wanted to be noticed as he drove down the road, and the Nudie Mobile was the perfect calling card (or calling car).
Nudie with one of his cars. Note the bonnet-mounted revolvers.
I've read that you used to get picked up from school in one of his custom cars. What was it like growing up around things like this?
At first I was sort of embarrassed, but as I came out of the teen years, I started understanding what he was all about. I was always hanging out in the store since I was born. In fact I even went into labour with my first daughter at Nudie's Rodeo Tailors. We were a family operation mostly. My grandmother handled the books, her sister did payroll and all the client files, and my mother and I both worked with inventory, sales, and running the tailor shop!
Porter Wagoner in one of his many Nudie suits
Having written a book about him, you've obviously got a lot of respect for Nudie. Outside of his suits and his cars, what was he like as a grandfather?
He was THE best grandfather any girl could ask for! He wouldn't just buy stuff for me, but for all my friends too. He would have me ride in the parades with him, cook for me, we’d watch old cowboy movies together, and he even bought me my first horse! We shared many times just talking about life. There was nothing I couldn't talk to him about. He was my best friend.
Anything else you'd like to add?
The world knows Nudie as the man who set rhinestones in fashion. To me, he is a man who had a kind heart, dreamed above and beyond, made his dreams a reality and shared that dream with the world.
Cheers Jamie, thanks for the answers.