Saturday, October 11, 2008

More on the (late) King of Cowboy Clothing

Here below is a long personal take from Design Observer on Jack A. Weil, the "king of cowboy clothing" who died aged 107 in August. HIs creations were instrumental in spreading the western dream and look around the world. In particular he invented the snap-button "cowboy shirt". "Western apparel was suited to independent thinking people," he says.

Weil was one of lone line of Jewish cothing designers -- in westernwear, the most famous was Nudie Cohen, the creator of the famously flamboyant "Nudie suits."

An untold number of Jews from Eastern Europe ended up in the American West, were they became door-to-door peddlers, ran trading posts, and founded dry goods stores. My great-grandfather was one of them, as were others of my forebears: My mother's cousin, Joe Simon, ran the Simon's Department store in Elgin, Texas, almost until his death. When I visited the store about 15 years ago, it still looked like something out of a western movie -- the big covered porch, the jeans piled up, the western shirts....the main hint of modern times was the fact that he took credit cards. Joe reminisced to me about his father, who would travel with his goods by horse and cart, on sandy Texas roads. After Joe's death, the store was turned into a furniture store -- I visited there a few years ago. When I go to Fort Worth, I always make a pilgrimage to Luskeys, founded originally in Odessa, Texas, in 1919. My uncle always jokes that the founder ("old man Luskey") started out in Minsk (or somewhere similar) and ended up in Odessa....

The Inventor of theCowboy Shirt

By Adam Levy

A few years ago, I found myself lost inside a shopping mall with the man who, in 1946, invented the snap-buttoned cowboy shirt. Jack A. Weil, better known as Jack A, was one hundred and one years old and he was not happy. He was, in fact, highly annoyed. We had wandered into the shirt section of Foley’s Department store in Denver. He was holding up a red-and-blue-striped Tommy Hilfiger. He couldn’t get over the fact that clothes were made anywhere else but in the good 'ol USA. "Call me an isolationist, call me small-minded but why do people buy shirts made in..." — Jack A looked at the label — "Sri Lanka!"

Jack A, along with his son, Jack B, who was then in his seventies, ran Rockmount Ranch Wear, a manufacturer of classic western shirts, Stetsons and bolo ties. (Rockmont shirts have been worn by Clark Gable in The Misfits, by Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain and by countless other cowboys, both real and imagined in between.) The three of us were trying to find a place to eat. But because Jack B refused to park in the parking garage and spend an extra five dollars, Jack A couldn’t find his way to his usual lunch spot, Spinnakers Restaurant. Jack A liked routine. He still opened the Rockmount shop every morning at 8:00am just as he did back in the 1940s, when he was an eager ex-hat salesman newly arrived in Colorado from Indiana.

Read the full story

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