Now that it’s confirmed Steven Soderbergh is making what hopefully will be an over-the-top Liberace biopic for HBO, played by Michael Douglas and his younger lover Matt Damon sashaying around in sequins and sideburns, this seems like an excellent time to revisit that flamboyant, kitschy, rockabilly look—from a fashion angle. Beginning October 28, MoMu fashion museum in Antwerp will present Dreamsuits: Designs by Nudie Cohn, the Rodeo Tailor.
Originally a designer of diamanté-encrusted G-strings for New York strippers, Ukrainian-born Nudie Cohn and his wife moved to Hollywood in 1947. There, they originated the riotous, embroidered-within-an-inch-of-its-life rhinestone cowboy look one usually associates with Liberace, Elton John and an older Elvis Presley. In fact, Cohn created Elvis Presley’s signature $10,000 gold lamé suit, as well as Hank Williams’ white cowboy suit with music notes on the sleeves, and similarly festive numbers for Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Cher, Elton John, Dolly Parton, John Lennon, and Johnny Cash. Reportedly, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren have been inspired by what became known as Nudie suits.
Here’s the thing. This won’t be a straight (although Nudie was, perhaps surprisingly) retrospective, but an examination of the personal collection of Bobbejaan Schoepen, a Belgian entertainer and lifelong client. The first of its kind in Europe, the exhibit will feature all manner of dazzling head-to-toe creations, accessories and ephemera, a celebration of Cohn’s exuberant aesthetic and the friendship between the two.