GQ: Personal Style: John Legend

I caught this over on I’ve always been impressed with John Legend’s style and let’s face it, not everyone can carry it all with Legend’s elegance and cool . Now see, THAT’S “swagger.” David Beckham and Pharrell Williams had their chance to weigh in too. Read on.

“John! You won’t remember me!” booms a BBC bigwig as he advances. The subject of such an overblown greeting – John Legend, the hugely talented soul singer behind the excellent new album Wake Up! – is sitting outside the BBC television centre in west London, where he will shortly perform on Jools Holland’s flagship show Later. Once the interloper has been satisfied (it turns out Legend posed for a photo with a member of the bigwig’s family earlier this year), the artist turns to the matter at hand – talking to about what to wear on a date, how his style differs from Kanye’s and the worst fashion mistake men make…

I grew up in a family that had a sense of the sartorial. Both my parents were part-time tailors and whenever people in the neighbourhood needed anything altered, they came to our house. I always liked the cool tweed things my dad would wear.

Going to church had a big influence on how we dressed. We had our Sunday best: you’d wear a three-piece suit with a tie or a bow tie.

I was the prom king in my junior year. I wore a tux I rented. There’s this whole industry in the States where you hire a tux at a mall. They’re usually pretty cheesy and slightly ill-fitting. I got creative with the cummerbund and the tie: it was black and white but had a bubble/polka-dot design on it. It would be considered a bit flamboyant at this point, but I considered it pretty f***ing cool at the time.

I think the first thing I bought was sneakers. For my parents, at the time, a $40 pair of sneakers was kind of expensive, so if we wanted to buy them, we had to save up our allowance. I would buy whatever the coolest shoe of the time was. Do you remember British Knights?

My peers in the music business tend to wear sunglasses at the wrong time. They overuse sunglasss at night and in the club. It makes you look uncool if you’re wearing them all the time – and why not look in people’s eyes when you talk to them?

We were all in the studio when Kanye said he wanted to do a song called “Christian Dior Denim Flow“. He wanted to represent the fashion, jet-setter life. He shouted out some of his favourite models – good thing he’s single right now! I couldn’t get away with that one.

I’ve been buying some Billy Reid stuff recently. He has a really cool, Anglo-American style, leaning towards the rougher, work side of things. I just got this beautiful Alexander McQueen wool duffel coat. Gorgeous. I love it. It’s going to be my go-to coat for tough winters in New York.

I thought about doing outfit changes during my shows.
But it just felt stupid to me. I understand why Beyoncé would do it, but it just didn’t feel right. Whatever we did to fill up that time always felt like going to a commercial break.

All you British guys dress pretty well.

The biggest style mistake men make? I don’t like to name the brand but that tattoo-style clothing. I hate that stuff. It’s just like a marker saying, “I’m a douchebag.” Michael Jackson wore it but he could pull off costumey-type things. He was a superstar. He had a licence other people don’t have. You have to dress well to be that character. I’ve seen a lot of the James Bond films, but he has a roughness that balances out the smoothness of the character and the kitschiness. He has a little bit of brutishness to him that works.

Daniel Craig dresses well.

On a date, you have to feel natural and confident in whatever you wear. If everything syncs up right, you’re with a girl who has similar tastes and vibe to you. If she doesn’t, you’re not going to last long anyway. Be yourself but make an effort – hope yourself is what she likes and if she does, you guys should hang out more. I would probably just wear a button-up shirt, a pair of slacks and some cool Prada dress boots.

I thought I was a well-dressed student. But when I look back now, no… That’s the thing about clothes – you think you’re looking good at the time. I thought I was a well-dressed dude. When I was in New York trying to get a record deal, I went through this super-funky phase where I grew my hair out and I tried to be a little more rock star than it was natural for me to be. The hair got big and it was dreaded up. You know those pictures of young Bob Marley before his dreads grew out? Natty fro!

Spike Lee has a great eye. Do The Right Thing is a classic. I loved Malcolm X. 25th Hour with Ed Norton was really good. I even loved the one he did with Clive Owen and Denzel Washington, Inside Man. He is awesome. And he’s not afraid to speak out.

There is a pretty narrow band of sunglasses that look good on my face. I lose them before I get tired of them. I had a pair of Louis Vuittons that I bought this summer in St Barts – which sounds very glamorous. [Adopts plummy voice, repeats phrase, laughs]

No, I do not jog in Lanvin. I doubt if Kanye does too. But it’s a good story. He’s good at myth-making, but a lot of it’s real. He likes telling it because it has a grandiosity.

I do trenches a lot for photo shoots and video shoots. They’re a little hot for onstage. I love putting the collar up, doing that brooding Marvin Gaye soulman kinda look. I think it fits me kinda well.

Generally, you just have to feel sexy. Which is an elusive thing, but you have to find it. When you feel sexy, everything’s better.

Wake Up! by John Legend & the Roots is out now (Sony Music, £6.99). They play Hammersmith Apollo on 27 November and the Jazz Café (yes, the Jazz Café) on 28 November.

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