Nudie Cohn was born Nutya Kotlyrenko in Kyiv, then part of the Russian Empire, in 1902. By 8 he was already an apprentice tailor, and three years later, his Ukrainian-Jewish parents sent him to the United States in hopes of a better life away from Russian antisemitic violence. It was in New York City where he got a new moniker — by the time he left Ellis Island after his processing, he had become Nudie Cohn thanks to an immigration officer who wrote down the wrong name.
After traveling the country and working various jobs, Cohn met and married Helen “Bobbie Nudie” Kruger, and the couple moved to Manhattan. They opened the women’s lingerie shop Nudies for Ladies, which catered to burlesque dancers who wanted tailor-made G-strings. In the 1940s they moved to Los Angeles and began working out of their garage making custom Western wear for such famed country musicians of the era as Lefty Frizzell and Tex Williams.