At the dawn of his career, Roy Rogers realized he’d need to outfit himself in some truly fancy duds if he was going to impress the folks who caught his act in a traveling rodeo.
The arenas were so large that Rogers, galloping around the ring on his horse, Trigger, just didn’t stand out.
So he went to see Nudie, a Los Angeles tailor who was hoping to make it big designing outfits for movie stars. Nudie was experimenting with a revolutionary Western look, and he made Rogers a flashy Western suit with long fringes and hundreds of tiny, glittering rhinestones.
After that, when the spotlight found him, Rogers was transformed into a dazzling spectacle that made him impossible to miss.
The client was happy, and Nudie was well on his way to becoming the tailor to the Western movie stars.
Nudie made John Wayne’s boots. Elvis Presley wore a $10,000 gold lame suit designed by Nudie on the cover of his album, “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.” The gaudy costume worn by Robert Redford in “The Electric Horseman” was a Nudie creation.
When Nudie died in 1984 at age 81, his widow, Bobbie, took over his legacy, Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors Inc., a Western-wear shop that has been at the same location on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood since 1963.
Bobbie, now 81, says she’s ready to retire. She will close the 6,600-square-foot store that has become a museum of sorts on Sept. 30.
“I want to dissolve it while I’m still living and not leave it to someone else,” she said. “I don’t know what they would do with it after I’m gone.”
This week, longtime customers recalled Nudie’s as a genuinely glamorous part of the motion-picture industry and bemoaned its passing.
“I’m sorry to see it go, really,” said Bob Musselwhite of Irvine, who has been a customer for 20 years. “They’ve had some beautiful stuff in here, and these are some very, very nice people.”
Nudie’s will not pass unnoticed. Calls for media interviews have come from around the nation this week.
“That was CNN, they want to come in on the 14th,” announced Nudie’s granddaughter, Jamie Nudie, who works at the store, after a call this week.
Friends, family and customers alike recall Nudie as a charismatic figure, outgoing and fun-loving, who made friends easily. Jamie recalled how Nudie would sometimes stroll the store serenading customers on his mandolin.
He presented a grand spectacle tooling around Los Angeles in his white, custom 1975 El Dorado convertible, replete with steer horns mounted on the hood, a dashboard inlaid with 300 silver dollars and a cowboy-style rifle mounted on the trunk.
“He was very proud when he got in that car,” said Musselwhite with a chuckle. “He thought he was the king of Los Angeles.”
Nudie, born in Russia, emigrated to Brooklyn, N.Y., when he was 11, his wife said. His full name was Nudie Cohn.
He learned to box and became a prizefighter, which offered him the opportunity to travel. He met Bobbie in her hometown of Mankato, Minn., and the two married, then moved to California in 1939.
On Thursday, the store was beginning to take on a vacant look, as shelves began to empty. Bobbie was hoping to sell the photographs--about 1,900 in all--to a single collector who would put them in a museum.
“It’s just like he was here,” she said. “He is everywhere, he is in pictures. This is what he created.”