Jacob L. Laban (1869–1952)

Jacob Leonardus Laban, a.k.a. Jacques Léon Laban

As told in the following newspaper account, Jacob emigrated from the Netherlands to France about 1890 to seek his fortune as a tailor.

Newspaper story from 1951 about Jacques Léon Laban writing his memoirs. Courtesy of Cornelis Laban.

[caption] “PAPA” LABAN” First costumes, then big business, now memoirs.

English translation:

“Papa” Laban (82) writes his memoirs

He made costumes for the ‘great of the world’ who came to the Riviera

(From one of our reporters)

Jacques Léon Laban, now 82, was born in Antwerp on 9 September 1869 from Dutch parents. He lived in Goes until he was 18 years old and the last sixty years has lived continuously on the Riviera. Five years ago, he was naturalized as a Frenchman, because, in his opinion, the Dutch authorities in France had dealt with his Dutch nationality just a little too much. He tells you this history from under a snow-white moustache, with a glance which clearly indicates that one should rather not try to “light the stove” with Jacques Léon Laban [i.e., he is a strong man and you cannot go around him].

He could also tell this story, which he does in flawless Dutch, in 28 other languages, because in that number he is sworn as a translator at the Nice court and in the past at the Marseille court.

He also has a large number of relationships in the South of France, which he serves as a legal adviser — he is also involved in many cases. The solitary solicitor of the “Cercle Hollandais,” where everyone knows him as “Papa Laban” — and he is currently writing his memoirs, the history of a career as remarkable as it is changeable.

Around the age of 18, Laban went into the world with a five-year HBS diploma (High school) as a tailor apprentice. His father had chosen this subject for him, actually without the son having any enthusiasm for it. But once he ended up in it, he wanted to take it as far as possible. At least he turned it into a thriving clothing factory in Menton at the age of thirty. [Menton is on the Riviera coast between Nice and the Italian border.]

At the outbreak of the First World War, Jacques Léon Laban was 45 years old and well-off. He was married to a Baroness Wittelsheim in 1899 and they had five children. One of his sons is Dutch and lives in The Hague, the other son and three daughters found a second home country in France.  The war instantly killed the Menton cause, because the princes, grand princes, and ministers who were coming to the Riviera suddenly had something else to do—and a lot more dangerous. Laban went to Marseille alone to attend trade courses. His wife and children—the eldest was fourteen—he left behind, “living on the sale of the antiques and jewelry.” Fortunately, they didn’t have to sell everything, because the former tailor also turned out to be a gifted merchant. For example, he sold Dutch machines for making straw casings abroad until they were no longer allowed to be exported, and in 1916 he shipped for 300,000 gold francs, French sewing thread, to the Netherlands … by fishing boat.

After just a few more transactions, Jacques Léon Laban was not just well-off, he was even a millionaire (in gold francs!). Until in 1924 the turning tide brought him back to his financial starting point.

Although this is already 28 years ago, the way the old gentleman asserts all this does not give the impression that he has ever really cared about those monetary ups and downs. He simply observes that he then only became a translator at the court in Marseille and started to focus more on giving legal and commercial advice.

When Mrs. Laban had to get mountain air on the doctor’s advice in 1931, he spent six years growing fowl on his estate in Belvédère, in the Nice mountains.

Mr. Laban is now filling his free time with the recording of his life memories, painting and reading. He does both without glasses and he says: “I don’t know what a headache or rheumatism is.”

Original article source: Rotterdamsch Parool, 31 May 1952, p. 11.


We have been looking for these memoirs so far without success. We do not know whether they were finished and published, or remained a manuscript after his death, 31 Dec. 1952, back in the Netherlands, in Cadzand, Zeeland. As he died only 7 months after the article, we fear the memoirs may not have been completed.


Page by Christopher S. Lobban with thanks to Cornelis Laban, posted   3 Oct. 2019.