When was the last time you saw a heart-shatteringly gorgeous male model in an ad for men’s fashion that made you actually kind of care about men’s fashion? So glad you asked. May I direct you to Akira, 36-year-old Japanese actor and performer of J-Pop group EXILE whose debut campaign with Ralph Lauren for the brand’s Spring 2018 Purple Label skidded my scroll to a hard stop.
Ralph Lauren had just appointed Akira as one of its global brand ambassadors, which for someone like Akira who is a professional performer and generally good-looking for a living should be a non-issue. The thing is, Akira is the first Asian male model to globally rep the American fashion house.
If this is news to you, it’s because there really wasn’t a whole lot of news about it. The campaign rolled out in March of this year and Akira was added to the Ralph Lauren roster with very little fanfare, considering the historic first.
On the one hand, that’s not necessarily a bad thing — something like this should be normalized, not tokenized. Seeing non-white models representing huge global brands should be a regular occurrence.
But it’s not. So here we are.
Akira himself was kind enough to make a pit-stop at Allure’s offices while he was in NYC in March to talk about his new appointment (and so I could grill him about how he keeps his skin looking in-cred-able).
On the difference between Western and Eastern concepts of masculinity
Conversations about masculinity are just beginning to happen in mainstream media, but that isn’t quite the case in Asia, where culture is steadfast to its rituals and customs — including traditionally conventional views on masculinity.
“In Japan, only a few men care about beauty, but most of them aren’t really doing facials and stuff. But that’s also generational — for the younger generation, like with teenagers, it’s kind of different.
On grooming and self-care
I can’t help myself from asking someone with a flawless complexion what they use, and I was really happy that Akira didn’t say he just drinks a lot of water. “Before I didn’t really care about [beauty] but more recently I’m more into it, especially for maintenance while touring and traveling.
I asked him if he had any product recommendations and he called out the Cellbester Personal, an ultrasonic facial device. He wasn’t even sure what its name was (he just referred to it as a “machine”), but he did send me a snap of it, which was helpful.
“In Japan, it’s kind of [unusual] for a man to use a [device] every morning, but there’s a big difference before and after.”
“I realize it’s not only makeup or skin care that works for me. Beauty reflects from the inside so I try to keep up my condition — thought and aesthetic — that’s most important for me to [maintain] beauty.
If you’re tired and exhausted and not taking care of yourself, it shows no matter what [products] you use.”
Akira has a kind of quiet elegance in person that commands a room without having to say much.
Then again, that is often a symptom of being very good-looking and very well-dressed. It’s clear to see why Ralph Lauren would appoint him as a global brand ambassador.
He knows himself, and he doesn’t over-embellish, which is a refreshing breath of humility in the male model trope, let alone a global brand ambassador.
A chameleon who goes from hip J-pop artist to a suit-wearing Casanova while looking like the same guy, Akira is a modern figure in the evolving narrative that legacy fashion houses find themselves in, adapting to the swiftly changing culture while maintaining their own values and brands.
I’m really glad that that narrative can expand to include Akira, a figure who challenges and champions our concepts of who that global leading man is.
Below, watch the full video for Akira’s Spring 2018 Ralph Lauren Purple campaign, and if you’re so inclined to catch EXILE performing live they’re going on a baseball stadium tour in Japan this fall.
More model behavior: