When Post Malone rolled up to the American Music Awards last year, his red carpet entrance caught the world’s attention. The tattooed rapper, who is infamous for his sleazy style, had a brand new look: Malone appeared on the scene like a modern day Elvis, dressed to the nines in a robin’s egg blue suit replete with giant chain-stitched rattlesnakes. The ornate, cowboy-meets-dandy set was created by Union Stitch Western, a fashion label out of Indianapolis, Illinois. “I had never heard of Post Malone, so I went on YouTube,” says Union Stitch founder Jerry Atwood who received the commission from Malone’s stylist, Catherine Hahn, via direct message on Instagram. “The first video had like 300 million views and I was like, ‘Who is this?’”
Since then, Atwood has customized some of Malone’s most standout ensembles, such as the emerald green dragon suit that he wore to the Grammy Awards last month. In addition to Malone, Atwood has outfitted several country music entertainers, including Nikki Lane and Joshua Medley, as well as pop singers such as Paloma Faith.
Though Atwood’s star is now on the rise, he began his business as an art school dropout in the early ‘00s, embroidering clothing on the side of his barista gig at a coffee shop. “It was slow,” he says. “I would sit there and embroider, and when someone would walk up, I’d put [the fabric] under the counter.” One day, a customer noticed Atwood’s embroidery and later lent him a book about the history of Western wear. The archival imagery he discovered struck a chord with Atwood. “My dad had this huge country music record collection. He had Porter Wagoner in Nudie suits on the covers,” he says. “I guess it didn’t really didn’t register until I saw this book and I kind of reconnected with it.”
From then on, Atwood began to embroider in a Western style, first applying the technique to costumes his then girlfriend and her friends would wear at the local roller derby. As a thank you, the team gifted Atwood an antique chain stitcher, and so his signature style came to be. His work eventually caught the eye of London-based Western wear collector Joe Walters, who helped Atwood launch a his line and from there, Union Stitch Western was born.
As far as influences go, Atwood cites the classic, rhinestone-encrusted Nudie suits of famed designer Nudie Cohn who was responsible for much of the glitzed-up garb of country singers in the ’60s and ’70s. He also references Nathan Turk, a lesser known contemporary of Cohn, who offered a more pared-back take on the aesthetic. “There is something about Nathan Turk’s work that was really refined,” says Atwood. While the designer takes cues from the Western wear greats of yore, he’s hardly stuck in the past. “I’m trying to redefine Western wear while keeping it classic. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel but I’m not trying to make something that is dated,” he insists. Still, the suits are created in a time-honored way. “I’d say each one takes about 80 to 100-plus hours to make,” he says. “But you know, I stop counting after a while.” Call it a stitch in time that’s beautifully crafted.