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Fashionable Folk

Who would have guessed earthy folk singer Ben Harper even knew about Lanvin? Fresh off a tour for his new album, "Lifeline," Harper is ditching his...

Ben Harper at the Soho Grand

Ben Harper at the Soho Grand.

Photo By Talaya Centeno

Who would have guessed earthy folk singer Ben Harper even knew about Lanvin? Fresh off a tour for his new album, "Lifeline," Harper is ditching his signature coffeehouse couture for threads with a more Parisian vibe.

But the artist insists designer names aren't a foreign language. He has a large collection of vintage and has been studying high fashion for years. Until recently, he's only worn it for red-carpet events, but now he's breaking it out for his concerts, as well.

"I'm not that everyday suit kind of guy, but after playing at such ornate theaters, I decided I wanted to dress up. This is a new step for me, wearing suits on stage," says Harper, who has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. "I have always been a big fan of Lanvin custom-tailored suits, and this tour gave me an excuse to wear them. In the past, my gear both onstage and off was one and the same."

Harper's previous look, which he calls "modern California vintage," consisted of organic cotton hoodies, baggy jeans and hats to cover up his wild, curly locks. He can't say whether his fans dress like him or he dresses like his fans, but he's willing to take credit for one of the demographic's biggest fads: cargo pants. "I was doing that in the early Nineties before they were everywhere," he claims.

As one who "respects the art of fashion and appreciates it," Harper wants to take risks and push the envelope in terms of his personal style. "I'll go thrift and I'll do Madison Avenue. There are no boundaries as far as cost or demographic. I just go for what I like."

He continues, "To me, clothing design is a fine art. You should take the opportunity to use fashion as a creative statement. It's part of your entire body of work creatively. It represents your aesthetic."

Musically, Harper's aesthetic is an acoustic sound with an old-school feel. His inspiration for the soulful, warm album "Lifeline" was a traveling musician's journal, he says. "It's not just a journal about myself, but I write about ideas, experiences and things I read that I think are good ideas. As a songwriter, you have got to be part biographer, autobiographer and part journalist."
Harper's sojourning will continue when he heads to either Paris or Jamaica to record his next album — he's undecided about which port of call as of yet. He is also considering teaming up with Jack Johnson.

And perhaps, down the line, a fashion collaboration could be in the works. Harper has already partnered with Vans on a limited edition sneaker, which will hit shelves this summer. "I'd love to design for a company," he says, only half joking, "and they'd make a ton of money because I'd do it right."