James Lebon: Gone but not forgotten

For many individuals in the worlds of fashion, music and film, Christmas spirits will have been dampened by news of the death last week of James Lebon at the age of just 49. 

 
//The original International Stussy Tribe; James Lebon centre// 

THE LOOK didn’t know Lebon at all well, though a handful of encounters left the impression of a hugely affable and multi-talented person, one who occupies an important place in propelling streetwear from the concern of a couple of hundred music-mad youths in London, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo a quarter of a century ago into the central place it occupies in today’s global pop culture.

It was Lebon who brought back crucial news of the emerging New York rap scene which in turn sparked the establishment of the UK’s first and most significant hip-hop club, the Language Lab in the early 80s. 


//James Lebon and friend, Cannes 1988. Pic: Ellen von Unwerth//  

Cutting a swathe through London’s demi-monde with his photographer brother Mark, James Lebon was in his time a leading hairdresser (with his Cuts salon in west London), an accomplished promo and commercials director, a model and member of Ray Petri’s influential Buffalo collective, and also a recording artist

<a href="http://youtube.com/watch?v=3g7xLIFY3vA&amp;" onclick="javascript:pageTracker._trackPageview('/outbound/article/youtube.com');">http://youtube.com/watch?v=3g7xLIFY3vA&amp;</a> 
//Montage of Lebon’s commercials work//  

Lebon often worked in conjunction with his compadre,  streetwear guru Michael Kopelman.

Interviewed at the Gimme 5 offices for THE LOOK, the friends chortled at the memory of paying repeated visits to Harlem to pick up a white leather tracksuit Lebon had ordered at Dapper Dan’s, the crucible of 80s urban fashion on 125th Street.On each occasion, they would make the trek uptown only to find that the article of clothing had been sold, because a procession of customers had seen the suit on display and persuaded the owner to sell it to them.

Kopelman and Lebon were among the first to pick up on the magical graphics being produced by surfer Shawn Stussy out of his Laguna Canyon studio in southern California in the mid-80s, and were part of the original International Stussy Tribe, as the image posted above and given to THE LOOK by Kopelman testifies. 

<a href="http://youtube.com/watch?v=8B7Lp4gi5ls" onclick="javascript:pageTracker._trackPageview('/outbound/article/youtube.com');">http://youtube.com/watch?v=8B7Lp4gi5ls</a>
//Fascinated by Lisa B. Directed by James Lebon// 

Read about Lebon’s crucial role in communicating awareness of such labels as Stussy, BAPE, Neighborhood and Goodenough in a recent interview here.

A Facebook group, The Don And Not Forgotten, features many touching photographs and reminiscences of this charming man. You may join it here.

Rollergirl said,

December 28, 2008 @ 5:18 pm

Really sad news. I never met him but totally idolised the whole Buffalo scene from afar. I know loads who knew him, he seemed very well-loved. (Incidentally, we recently found out that that Lisa B video was filmed in our flat!)

Shelley said,

January 2, 2009 @ 10:25 am

So sorry to hear of James’ death; we were very close when we were both 18 and went through a few decades of friendship!! You are at peace now old friend, will miss you, Sx.

gman7400 said,

January 4, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

I saw a picture of the original stussy london chapter; James was in it and I wanted to be like these guys. Still sporting Stussy over 25 years on.
Thanks James for the inspiration – love your work.
One world, one love.
Rest in peace.
Unofficial Edinburgh chapter.

rockpopfashion said,

January 4, 2009 @ 6:55 pm

Dave Knight has posted this over at Promo News: http://www.promonews.tv/2008/12/30/james-lebon/

Good to see JL’s life and career at least being covered in appropriate quarters online (IE: Facebook friends, here and at PN) but where is the print media? Really slack of them not to have picked up on his significance thus far. Do hope we see a decent newspaper/magazine obit/tribute soon.

Hermione said,

January 7, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

There simply are not words enough. Beautiful, kind, generous, uber-talented. How I aspired to hang with THE man about town. And how generous he was to me. A 21 year old record company exec who so needed someone to care and take control and understand how scary the business of film-making was, when one had an artist who one was passionate about and needed a visual to match that enthusiasm. Our first seminal moment was for the first true boy band Big Fun – who I signed – who everyone laughed at – but who James just ‘got’. He shot a colourful piece against white. With BEAUTIFUL models (who created myahem – one who was 15 at the time – and went on to become Simon Cowell’s squeeze – Terri) and yet he handled them all so well. It was a massive record, thanks to a rocking video. Bit like him really. A man who truly knew how to rock it. No airs, no fakeness, with true grace. I LOVED seeing him. Working with him. Spending time with him. Chewing the cud. Popping in for meetings. Running out for a spot of lunch or viewing his latest work. Kensal Rise and then Ladroke Grove (just in the place you would want to be hanging at the time ) took on new meaning. He always had time. To invite me to stuff. To just be there. And he was so complimentary. I was terribly shy – yet when I left his company – I WAS a million dollars. He got me. I felt honoured. He kinda got the world within his innocence. This is a terrible and tragic loss. Just knowing he’s no longer in the world makes me incredibly sad. I spoke to him around 3 months ago. And as they say – if I’d known then what I know now – I would have told him just how special he was.

I send my sincerest love to his family.

Aunty Lou said,

January 8, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

I am so delighted and, at the same time rather sad, reading what everyone says about James. ‘Rather sad’ because I didn’t know or realise that James was so clever in his work, nor really what type of work he did, nor what type of life he lead. I’m one of James’ aunts and all the comments about him since his death are thrilling as well as moving. I read those on Facebook (first time I’ve ever been on that site) a few days after he died and am inspired to say something having just read Hermione’s which is the most recent here on rockpopfashion (I only found out about these sites through my more up-to-date daughter Jane – and Google). Just like everyone else, I loved James very much. He had a very difficult childhood but was always a loving and well-balanced boy inspite of it. I saw a lot of him I’m glad to remember when he and Mark lived in the flat opposite mine in New Cavendish Street – together with so many of his gorgeous friends – and I met more of them when I went to his hair salon Cuts. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who cared about him (no wonder his short life was a relatively happy one) and a special appreciation of Alex, (who is still helping to sort things out) and Michael K. for arranging the astounding funeral, also to Nick, Jamie, Lucy and dozens more. I’m sure Moni must feel supported by all the help and love given in the messages as are, indeed all my family.

[...] the passing of an old friend and all around fantastic guy. James Lebon you won’t be forgotten!http://rockpopfashion.com/blog/?p=129  I took a few random snaps of various friends. It was great so see everyone  and made me really [...]

Elodie said,

January 13, 2009 @ 10:37 am

I knew james over a period of about ayear or two, our children were at school together. from the first time i met him at a parents gathering and following on, i thought what a nice man. always friendly, softly spoken and grounded. he was interesting and interested. we talked a lot about hairdressing as this is my field to, but i had no idea he had done so much.
i was very shocked to hear he had departed. with fond memories and my condolences to his family and children. elodie.x

Michael said,

January 31, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

I just found out my friend James died. I met him when we were both about 18.

The last time I spoke with him was Christmas 2007.

I moved to Canada some years ago, so we weren’t as tight as we once were.

Moni emailed me in reply to an email I’d sent him the first week of January, and that’s how I found out. I’m shocked and deeply sad, and the memories come flooding back.

Hanging with James and Matt Dillon at Titanic. The time James wouldn’t let Mick Jagger into Gaz’s ‘cos he didn’t want to pay a fiver. (The Standard wrote it up the next day.)

Trying to get James a record deal with Mark Dean at Innervision which was Wham’s label. Of course he was a pretty bad singer, but that wasn’t the point.

The point was he was the coolest and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever know.

It was a pretty cool scene in London back then, but James was a rarity. Completely natural, he didn’t need to put it on, he just was it. Always there for you.

He treated stars and coat check girls exactly the same. He was a fucking Prince.

I’ll always miss and love you mate.

Prof Issam Hajjaji said,

May 25, 2009 @ 5:46 pm

James was in my class at public school in Kent, UK. We became friends from the age of 12, a muslim and a jew! Very nice and humorous person. I am very sad of his passing away, but happy to see that he did so well for himself. James, someone in Libya will remember you.

Russell Saunders said,

August 4, 2009 @ 11:35 am

I have heard some very sad news that shouldn’t really be affecting me, but, even though school at Sutton Valence was some 35 years ago, I have fond memories of James. Very smooth.

Bryan Boese said,

August 12, 2009 @ 10:28 pm

In 1974 we were pals at Sutton Valence and in the West End. James took me to the 100 Club (age 14) and seemed to know everyone including Chris Barber who was playing that night. I got home after midnight- my mum fretting as I was in a “jazz club” – the next day the gig was written up in The Times -after that even my Mum thought James was cool. Adieu James.

Tionatebeauty said,

March 9, 2010 @ 9:28 pm

In my opinion you stole this article and placed on another site.

rockpopfashion said,

March 10, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

Ah well we’re all welcome to our opinion…!

Graham said,

January 21, 2012 @ 5:42 pm

I met James at cuts in soho and became loose friends – he was so cool and warm- looking for old friends toady I am so shocked to find this news love ya James

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