Blue-eyed and pillowy lipped, with a beauty mark on one cheek, Kamen bore a resemblance to a young Elvis Presley. This was played up in the retro feeling of a steamy 1985 commercial he did for Levi’s 501 stonewashed denim. In it, the young model walks into a laundromat and fills a washing machine with rocks before quickly removing his T-shirt and belt and then oh so slowly unbuttoning his jeans, balling them up, and throwing them in the washer. He wears just a pair of white boxers as he waits out the spin cycle.
The Levi’s job brought Kamen to the attention of a larger audience, including Madonna, who was then entering her Marilyn Monroe phase. “Each Time You Break My Heart,” the hit single off of Kamen’s first album, was written by the pop star and originally intended for True Blue. With Stephen Bray, Madonna produced the song for Kamen and also provided the backup vocals. The beauty in the video that Jean-Baptiste Mondino shot for the single is not, however, the Material Girl, but Kamen’s then girlfriend Talisa Soto.
Kamen went on to have a string of chart-making hits. His fellow musician and friend Boy George announced Kamen’s death on his Instagram, writing, “R.I.P. to the most beautiful and sweetest man Nick Kamen!” Like the Culture Club singer, Kamen bridged the worlds of music and fashion.
“Kamen was our muse,” said Jamie Morgan, the photographer who worked with stylist Ray Petri to create the Buffalo look, in a recent interview. The style, focused on individuality and achieved with a magpie DIY approach to putting together a look, was introduced to the world through independent British magazines like i-D and The Face. Buffalo style was in part a reaction to the industry’s focus on the gloss of perfection, and though niche, it had an outsize and lasting influence, laying the groundwork for the explosion of creativity and rebellion in 1990s fashion.
We were “young and invincible,” recalled Christine Bergstrom, model and muse to Claude Montana and Jean Paul Gaultier, who worked with Kamen regularly at the time, and not only with the British Buffalo gang, but also with Paris-based talents like the illustrator Tony Viramontes and art director Marc Ascoli. “He was definitely a figure of my youth, and he takes a part of that youth with him,” said Bergstrom. Her sentiments echo those of the many people who fell under the spell of Kamen’s considerable charm.