By Ruth Ellen Gruber
The Fashion Museum in Antwerp, Belgium is presenting the first exhibition in Europe of the flamboyant clothing designed, mainly for country music stars and other popular entertainers, by Nudie Cohn, the "Rodeo Tailor" (and king of sartorial rhinestone glitz).
The show, called "Dream Suits", opened Oct. 28 and runs til Feb. 12. It features clothing owned -- and worn -- by the popular Belgian entertainer Bobbejaan Schoepen, who died in 2010 at the age of 85.
Drawn from the personal collection of iconic Belgian entertainer Bobbejaan Schoepen and his wife Josée, this show — curated by fashion historian Mairi MacKenzie and designer R. Cerimagic — will be the first European exhibition to examine the work of the Ukrainian born tailor who revolutionized the clothing of Country & Western Music.
Originally a designer of highly embellished g-strings for New York strippers, Nudie Cohn moved to Hollywood in 1947 and originated the rhinestone cowboy look that has become visual shorthand for Country & Western style. His fantastical, intricately embroidered and heavily ornamented outfits adorned the backs of numerous music and film stars, including Elvis Presley, Gram Parsons, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Elton John, Cher, John Lennon, Steve McQueen, Johnny Cash, and Bobbejaan Schoepen. Today his work is still sought after and admired. Contemporary musicians such as Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream, Mike Mills from R.E.M. and Beck, fashion photographers such as Craig McDean and fashion designers from Tommy Hilfiger to Ralph Lauren have been inspired by his incredible designs. Bobbejaan Schoepen was a lifelong client and collector of Nudie Cohn designs. This resulted in a close friendship between the two men, and an exceptionally large and well-preserved collection of Nudie designs. This exhibition will celebrate both Nudie’s very particular aesthetic as well as the relationship between these extraordinary men.
Schoepen was a singer, actor and comedian whose career and style included a hefty dose of old-style comic country music -- including virtuoso whistling and yodeling. He got his first breaks entertaining American troops in Europe after World War II. He was one of the first Europeans to appear at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, performing three times there in 1953 with Roy Acuff.
A short film made by Alice Hawkins to accompany the exhibit is very consciously retro -- but I find it fails to capture the joy, verve and dazzlingly ironic sense of fun that Nudie, his often outrageous costumes and his over the top cars embodied.