by David Isle

A generation of royalty is now exiting the world stage. Just weeks ago Prince Philip of England announced his retirement, and now Emperor Akihito of Japan joins him. Akihito’s lifetime coincides with a remarkable period of Japanese history, from World War II, to the incredible Japanese economic success in the decades following their defeat, and finally to his own rule, beginning in 1989 and coinciding with economic and demographic stagnation. 

Akihito has traveled history’s tortuous path with grace and fine British tailoring. Though American style - from jeans to Brooks Brothers - has been the guiding light of Japanese non-royals of all classes since the American occupation, the upper crust, including the royal family, has favored British tailoring. Akihito, like his father before him, is a customer of Henry Poole & Co.

As a young man, Akihito drew criticism for wearing trousers that were thought to be too baggy for his slight frame. Here he is as a young man wearing such trousers, with a full cut but precisely tailored:

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It’s a testament to Akihito’s refined taste that he paid his critics so little heed and that his style has varied so little over the years. You can see the same full cut, many decades later, on the cashmere striped trousers on the top photo. The double-breasted suit you see young Akihito wearing has also been a staple throughout his public life. Here he is in a similar suit with President Obama:

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The pictures of these more formal outfits are perhaps the most fascinating because they are so rarely seen today, and the tailoring on Akihito’s examples is exquisite. But Akihito adopted a charming British style in more casual outfits as well: 

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This, too, is an old habit, dating back at least to this picture of Akihito and his father, taken when Akihito was 16:

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Whether this manner of dressing will exist on this earth for many decades longer is an open question. But during his time in the public eye, Emperor Akihito has been one of its finest advocates.