For The Discerning Few: Could you tell us about your background?
Yukio Akamine: I am Japanese and I have great appreciation for the classic way of dress which unfortunately does not have a great history in Japan, so as a young man I studied the look of the English tailoring style. That is how it all started for me.
I find it interesting that for two hundred years you have had such a concentration of men’s style in such a small area: Savile Row radiated throughout the world.
There’s something in common between the gentleman’s style of dress and the history of Samurais. A samurai has a distinctive mode of dress for each moment of his life. He has a dress language parallel to the way he lives.
I was a consultant for United Arrows up until two years ago. I now give some lectures on style to Japanese gentlemen. I put to the fore my philosophy about dress. I deal with every aspect of life. I give a global vision of style. Style is a way of living.
FTDF: What constitutes style as far as you are concerned?
Yukio Akamine: I believe that the components of style emanate from within: intelligence, character, personality. Clothes do matter, but they cannot give you style.
Dressing is like writing, actually: there are three modes of style in Japanese writing. I can write my name in three different ways. The first way is the classic style of writing. The second one is a lighter style of writing, which is a bit different. The third one is even less formal.
The English style of dress is like the first style of writing, it is very classical. The second style, which is slightly less formal, makes me think of Neapolitan tailoring which was inspired by English dress but took it one step down in order to make it a little less formal. The third style of writing is like fashion and trends.
I relate to the first style of writing, I relate to the English dress. I am classic.
FTDF: How would you describe your personal style?
Yukio Akamine: My style is a mix of English style with what I am, a Japanese. It is a blend of the two.
It is a feeling more than anything else. Your dress should be in sync with you, with how you feel that day. The key to style is finding that equilibrium between the way you are feeling that day and the way you dress. You are constantly expressing yourself.
The way you hold yourself, the way you place your hands will change the aspect of a suit. Style is to be found in everything that we do. For instance, the way you place your napkin while you are eating can define your style.
Even in very simple people you will find gestures that are very elegant. For instance in Japan there is a ritual way of holding a chopstick.
What I am trying to say is that more important than how many centimeters of shirt cuff you are showing is that you be in sync with the way you dress.
We are almost like characters in a film, we are moving, living characters, we are playing ourselves. The interesting thing about dress is that almost cinematic approach to style.
After WWII, the major influence in Japan was the American influence, which is clearly very different from the more classic English style.
Before the war, Hirohito was a customer of Savile Row; his style was very much English. However, the influence of the Americans after the war was very much about jeans and casual clothing, this influence continues to have an impact in Japan nowadays.
American culture has invaded Japan from the food, the music, the way Japanese dress, etc. Everything had to be easy, simple and fast. Even though American culture is also present in Italy and in France, it is much more dominant in Japan.
What I am teaching is returning to the source of masculine elegance which was the influence of the English. From there you can develop your own style but with the basics in hand. Because if you are constantly chasing after trends you go from one ridiculous thing to the next. But if you have the basics, you can start from it and add your own creativity, your own national identity, which in my case is Japanese. That is how you create your own style.
FTDF: Is there a Japanese style?
Yukio Akamine: There is no Japanese style as far as I am concerned. However, Japanese have always been interested in hand work, techniques and things that show that handcrafting, so it might be a silk lining like the one which was used in kimonos.
The true Japanese style is very much preoccupied by the hand work, the work of men. Many international fashion houses have been and still are very much inspired by this.
FTDF: What is your view on bespoke tailoring now?
Yukio Akamine: There is a big boom of interest. But what is important and what is getting harder to find is true handcraftsmanship.
Every hand is little bit different; it takes a great deal of time to acquire the skills and to acquire the identity of that skill: every master hand craftsman, every great tailor has a signature.
Just to learn the basics, it takes ten to fifteen years. To acquire your signature, it takes decades.
When I look at a bespoke suit, I know who did it because I am able to recognize the handwork, the signature.
So the real challenge now is for young people to acquire those skills. How are they going to do it? That is the question of the future.
There are young people who have studied the craft, but they don’t necessarily have roots in what I would call masculine elegance, so they are trying to make a name and they are trying to make fashion. They have great skills but they misuse it. They make fashion — they don’t make style.
I was very much inspired by the cinema of the past, from the forties where actors were dressed in an immaculate way, with a lot of personality. I believe that young tailors should first learn to master the style from these movies before trying to do fashion.
Bespoke has its own universe and should not be mixed with an industrial production. Fashion and Bespoke are two separate worlds. They are like oil and vinegar, you can’t mix them together.
FTDF: What do you think of French tailors?
Yukio Akamine: They are only a few remaining now. I liked Smalto in 1970’s when he started with a very refined, very elegant, close to the body cut which was a little over the top, but I appreciated it. Now, it is industrial… I have no longer any interest in it.
I also loved Cifonelli back in the days. It had a really masculine identity which really came from its Italian roots. Today, it is sort of gone, it is very feminine, it doesn’t know where it is.
FTDF: Is it not the responsibility of the customer to have taste and culture? Some people dress in bespoke but have no taste; they ask for ugly things, the tailors cannot be blamed for that.
Yukio Akamine: I agree with you. It is the customer’s responsibility, but there are not many great customers anymore.
There are very few bad tailors but there are lots of bad customers. Brummel said: "It is the customer who makes the tailor. The tailor absolutely cannot make the client. It is the client who makes the tailor great." Unfortunately we are losing those kinds of customers.
FTDF: Where can one find this masculine style you are talking about?
It is all about sweat and time, it is all about small productions. The more hours you put into it, the more sweat you put into it, the better it is. It is no secret. It is pretty clear.
Many young tailors want to show off. But I believe that understatement is extremely important. The key to taste is to be as subtle as possible.
FTDF: What has been the impact of the Internet on the world of bespoke tailoring?
Yukio Akamine: Some people have more financial resources than they have taste resources so whatever they do they tend to do it in pretty bad style. Internet at some level tends to be the cause of that. People are all about the moment, they want things to happen right away without taking the time to learn and to appreciate anything.
I believe that you see a continuity of taste in a person’s life from the way you speak, you conduct yourself, and from the way your house is set up and furnished.
The shoes I wear today are from John Lobb, they are 25 years old. When I first got them they weren’t really comfortable but after 25 years, they really feel comfortable. With beautiful things, it is all about learning to wait, being patient. People today, they don’t want to give it time. But it is like love, it is like a relationship, it is like learning, like all the things we admire, it takes time. Anything that happens in the snap of a finger isn’t good.
Using internet to communicate some tailoring houses are trying to become brands, but brands are not interesting. The hand, the quality of the work, that is what matters. Is it beautiful or is it ugly? That what matters; the brand, who made it, it is irrelevant. It is the thing itself that speaks for itself. Either it has soul or it doesn’t.
FTDF: What is your view on menswear/ready to wear nowadays in Japan?
Yukio Akamine: Thirty years ago, the Japanese economy was at its best. But in the last few years, it has been more difficult. For that reason there was a great pressure on people to buy less expensive products. As a result there was a great boom of mass produced garments made in China which were of poor quality and were not very good at all. Now things are starting back to be made in Japan. Therefore, there is more attention to details and some quality products are now back on the market. There is more attention to the quality of the manufacturing, of the fabrics. It is positive.
FTDF: Growing up, did you have style icons?
Every once in a while in Paris I happen to see an elderly man who has got a lot of style. I don’t see a lot of style in young people. When I was in my twenties I was always impressed by the way more mature people dressed.
FTDF: What is your definition of elegance?
Yukio Akamine: Elegance is born in the heart of a person. Elegance is a personal affair. It is a very personal experience, that is why you can’t replicate it, you can’t mass produce it.
For instance, when I look at Scott Schuman’s pictures, most of the time I don’t even notice the clothes, I notice that Scott is able to get the subject’s heart on film. If you look at The Sartorialist only for the clothes, you are missing the point. Scott is taking pictures of souls.
We would like to thank Yukio Akamine for his availability, his kindness and his wisdom.
We would also like to thank Michael Alden for his crucial help.
This interview was conducted by Pierre-Antoine LEVY and Virgile MERCIER for For The Discerning Few. Paris, February 2012. All Rights Reserved.