Of all the fashion genres covered in Rock Band, the hardest to pin down is also the most obvious: Rock. “It’s not a really clearly defined genre,” says artist Shawn Witt, who was in charge of creating the Ultimate Male Rock Outfit for Rock Band 2. “The scope is much broader than, say, punk, but that makes it more difficult to represent.” Witt and some of the other artists at Harmonix decided that, given the open-endedness of the assignment, it might be interesting to design a ‘Nudie Suit’ – an extravagantly embroidered, Western-cut outfit that became emblematic of the ‘Countrypolitan’ movement in country music from the 1950s through the 1970s. The Nudie Suit was developed by Nudie Cohn, a flamboyant Ukrainian tailor who had a penchant for rhinestones, appliqués, and handguns.
He set up shop in Hollywood in 1950, where he designed eye-popping, hallucinogenic stage garments for an ever-widening circle of celebrities such as Tex Williams, John Wayne, Cher, Elvis Presley, and, yes, ZZ Top, who can be seen rocking Nudie style on the cover of their 1975 opus, Fandango.
Witt researched Nudie’s creations so that he could get the look and feel of the outfit just right. He was drawn primarily to country rock legend Gram Parsons as the inspiration for the Nudie suit that would eventually make it into the game. “A lot of the designs I looked at were sort of comical,” Witt says, “but that suit that Gram Parsons is wearing on the cover of Gilded Palace of Sin, it’s just really well done.”
Shawn Witt's Nudie hat & boot concepts
Witt happened to be working on the final concept painting of the Rock Band 2 Nudie suit on the day that Jimmy Buffett was visiting the Harmonix offices to prepare three of his most popular tracks for DLC. “He looked over my shoulder and said, ‘Whoa, what’s that?’” Witt says. “I showed him the painting and he said he used to wear a Nudie suit on stage occasionally. I think he shared our attitude about the suit being impressive and extravagant in a comical way.”
Preliminary concept paintings
Final orthographic of the Nudie suit
Nudie Cohn passed away in 1984, leaving you with only two ways to experience his embroidered masterpieces: Shell out a small fortune for an original on eBay (and compete with George Jones, who is reportedly trying to buy back all of the suits Nudie created for him – or win the Impossible Guitar Challenge to unlock the Nudie suit in Rock Band 2. Just try not to spill anything on it, because we went through hell making those rhinestone thigh pistols.