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In Memory of Jimmy Webb

Apr 19, 2020

By Thomas Onorato

By Thomas Onorato

Jimmy Webb
Photo By: Carl Timpone / BFA

Beloved by rock and roll royalty and your local neighborhood punks alike, Jimmy Webb is being mourned on social the world over by rock icons like Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, Duff McKagan, Henry Rollins, Billie Joe Armstrong and more whom he counted as friends. 

New York’s downtown community is hurting from the loss of this amazing man that influenced and encouraged so many. Thanks to Jimmy, I and thousands of others were always in style along with rock stars, models and goth kids alike. 

Jimmy Webb, the legendary punk rock style arbiter and store director, passed away at the age of 62 after a long battle with cancer.  He’s remembered here by Thomas Onorato a friend and work colleague.  

Jimmy and Thomas Onorato

It is no exaggeration to say that Jimmy kept the eternal flame of the gritty and survivalist pro-artist creed of the East Village during a critical (and, depending on your point of view, terrible) period of transition from the place where squatters and punks spray painted, wrote music, raised hell and questioned everything to a place of rich kids playing at street life, art gallery owners and successful financial industry types who pushed out the people who made the East Village a destination for artists and musicians moving to NYC in the 70s through the early 90s. 

Jimmy became a constant presence through the changes, and in some ways, St. Mark’s Place, once the street of Narc Anon Meetings and cheap-as-hell Dojos, became the street of SuperCuts and Subway, was kept alive by Jimmy being and remaining the heart and soul of rock and roll living and style.  

Jimmy didn’t so much weather this transition as he remained someone true to his roots of struggle, homelessness and former substance abuse. He wasn’t ever going to re-present himself as a Jeffrey, an arriviste Meapa style store that in so many ways took cues from Jimmy but at quadruple the price and with thousand-dollar store fixtures. You walked into Jimmy Webb’s I NEED MORE boutique on Orchard Street and no matter who you were—and you most certainly did not have to be a person with a pile of money—Jimmy was there to help you get in touch with your inner rock star. Like most excellent creative directors, Jimmy both looked right into you, saw you, ignored you, and above all, helped create you. “You need that a size tighter,” he’d say, tugging and pulling at your outfit from the moment you emerged from the dressing room. “You need a belt,” he’d say, and you did—not on the belt loops mind you. “This is going to work with that,” he’d say when you tried on a new top or pants. 

Photo by Gonzalo Marroquin/Getty Images

You wanted to look punk rock, Jimmy had you; you wanted to look like you crawled out of the Continental at 5:00 AM after having your top and jeans ripped half off your body, Jimmy had that on the racks already done for you. You wanted to look like a 1950s pinup star ready for the red carpet, he could do that as well.  And Jimmy became your friend. He knew you, he was happy to see you, and he had no qualms about befriending aspiring musicians, artists, and club kids.  All you had to do to be part of the scene in his book was show up, be kind and care to get it right. 

That was part of his magic, Jimmy embodied rock and roll and looked like a star himself. While he very much had a “day job,” if he focused his expert eyes on you and gave the thumbs up, you felt blessed. Never afraid to tell cute boys, and girls, when they were getting it right, he made everyone that came into his stores feel their best. 

This was especially evident when the first of the skinny jean trends began to bubble up around 2004. Webb was responsible for outfitting many of the new waves of young nightlife and social influencers who all sung his praises like The Misshapes, Ultragrrrl, Agyness Deyn, My Chemical Romance and many others in addition to New York’s entire exploding indie dance-rock scene. They all came to give Jimmy a hug and get the latest looks. 

Photo By: Carl Timpone / BFA

Jimmy’s own personal style was legend. May I always and forever remember the delight of coming to St. Mark’s Place and seeing Jimmy in bone tight grey and black striped Tripp jeans or flared leather pants with leopard and studs while dripping in silver jewelry. Jimmy came directly from the punk fashion style of the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and Vivienne Westwood. It expressed outsider, disenfranchisement, and anger. That 70s anger was channeled into a 1980s edge with the fop of The Pretenders and Adam Ant, the anti-romance generation, and then the ripped talent of 90s grunge. Throughout his life, Jimmy was deeply in touch with those artists at the beginning of their careers who had something to say, and through dress and style in his work, he was their consistent champion.

A true survivor, Jimmy began working at New York’s iconic punk fashion emporium Trash & Vaudeville in 1998. He quickly rose to be the manager, buyer, and the most sought-after in-house stylist. Throughout the aughts and onward any aspiring young rock and roll kid finding their way could walk into Trash, as it was often referred to, and shop with Jimmy who an hour earlier was pulling looks for the hottest band of the moment.  This gave him a powerful intangible currency that made thousands of customers the world over come to meet and shop with him.  Getting a photo with Jimmy after a purchase was very much commonplace. 

Jill Kargman, Jimmy Webb and Ivy Kargman
Photo by Gonzalo Marroquin/Getty Images

Years ago, Vogue Magazine dubbed him the “reigning mayor of St Marks Pace,” and during this era, it was hard to miss him taking a break on the metal steps outside of Trash.  As the East Village and New York City gentrified, Trash eventually had to close in 2016 and work towards finding its new home on East 7th Street. 

Eventually, Jimmy took the plunge and opened his own rock and roll fashion boutique, I NEED MORE, on Orchard Street–literally in my apt building. I felt like a leather studded Santa had arrived and I was so excited! 

Photo by Gonzalo Marroquin/Getty Images

I NEED MORE became a new home for rock and roll and it became evident that where Jimmy went, the rock and roll elite followed. Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry recently opened a permanent installation of rock stars hands and feet in cement giving fans a place to go to feel closer to their favorite icons. 

Jimmy Webb & Debbie
Photo By: Carl Timpone / BFA
Iggy Pop
Photo By: Carl Timpone / BFA

I was always amazed that every time I would see Jimmy and experience his energy and humor the day always felt brighter. One of his greatest gifts was when he trained his eye on you and helped you put your look together. A customer would feel like they were communing with the spirit of rock and roll itself.  He would get a mischievous sparkle in his eye and they knew the rock gods approved. 

I’ll miss our St Marks Place and later Orchard Street kikis. One of our last included a good laugh about a certain musician that we both knew and to quote Jimmy exactly they were “not a good hang.” 

I will also miss the man with one of the kindest hearts I have ever known. He was a powerfully loyal friend that cared deeply for those in his life. I’ll always remember him checking on me when I was in hospital as well as the encouragement he gave me at the same time I was giving him professional guidance when we worked together. 

I take great joy in knowing that generations of rock and roll youth have grown up under his style tutelage and infectious energy and that will get passed on the world over, forever. A new rock god is watching over us all during these strange and crazy times.  

Photo By: Carl Timpone / BFA

Editor’s Note: At the time of posting this story it’s unknown what the future plans are for Webb’s boutique, I NEED MORE.  

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