Visvim, the decade-old Japanese clothing company founded and directed by former Burton snowboards designer Hiroki Nakamura, is more influential than you may think. For a long time relatively unheard of, the company has, over the past few seasons, attracted more and more attention, whilst quietly continuing to do what it always has: produce wonderful clothing.
In interviews, Nakamura consistently claims that his intention has only ever been to make clothing that was long-lasting, high in quality, and constantly developing new ideas. As a result, the Visvim collection is ever-changing, putting onto the market new ideas that have been long in development, and taking inspiration from disparate sources. Vintage workwear, military clothing and sportswear are, as to many designers, hugely relevant to the brand, but it is the more obscure areas of Nakamura’s research that truly sets Visvim apart: the Sami tribe of Finland, ancient Japanese weaving methods and, especially, the Navajo Indians of the American south west are all crucial to the Visvim mythology.
That said, the range of pieces in each collection are far from the Japanese avant-gardery one might expect from such patchwork influences. Instead, visitors to Visvim’s FIL (Free International Laboratory) stores, or various meticulously selected international retailers, can expect a core collection of shirts, jackets, boots, and shoes that, instead of confronting the wearer or audience, reveals its brilliance by turns. Open out the facing of an already stunning lightweight cotton hooded parka and you are met with a full Gore-tex lining, each seam sealed with chevron printed seam tape. Turn over a recent incarnation of Visvim’s most popular moccasin sneaker, the FBT (a reference to the moccasins worn by Terry Hall on the sleeve of The Fun Boy Three’s debut album), and you discover that the grip of the soles is a Vibram-cast ordnance survey map of Colorado’s Monument Valley. The beauty, in each tiny section of each garment, is in the details, and in the quality of manufacture. Surrounding the core collection are Navajo rugs, simple turquoise jewellery and kimono-style buttonless Japanese shirts, again putting Visvim a rung above the competition.
Hiroki Nakamura’s work has earned him fine art status. In a sense, the entire label is conceptual: every idea is executed regardless of cost, and there seems to be something of a liberal attitude to sales. Prices are incredibly high, and numbers limited, but there is absolutely no compromise in quality – much of the label seems an exercise in just how intricate, detailed and solidly made an item can be, resulting in the utter pinnacle of functional clothing. The deeper, more abstract influences are hinted at in the individual names of products, often footwear, Nakamura’s first love. The Beuys (a reimagining of the Clarks Wallabee), the Hockney (nearer to a classic deck shoe) and the Christo (a sandal that tightly wraps over the foot) all reflect their namesakes in their design and the lengths Nakamura has gone to find inspiration for his brand.
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End clothing in Newcastle UK, one of the few retailers who stock Visvim products outside Japan, explain why a small group of loyal customers will spend so much of their money of Visvim product. “Hiroki Nakamura is a man who has little interest in the products that can be produced through modern manufacturing methods. He’s a man more concerned with character and at End this is what we love about Visvim. He has solidly produced collections consisting of understated, timeless pieces with incredible levels of effort paid to functional design and premium materials. Dedication to creating pieces that will stand the test of time has always been a focus. Through working with skilled artisans and focusing on tried and tested production techniques he has succeeded time and time again in this.”
Visvim’s summer 2013 offering – “Dissertation on Symbolism and Our Prayer Flag” – focuses on a repeated cross print found on an ancient hand-woven Tibetan blanket, carrying it through alongside references to Tibetan dress and international flags. A highlight is a simple white t-shirt, whose lower portions form a hand-patchworked American flag. This tiny cross is itself based on one found in earlier Visvim collections, where it referred to the + symbol always found after Joseph Beuys’ signature.
That attention to detail and quality sums up the way Visvim works to seduce the wearer: constantly looking back, reinterpreting and building solidly on what has come before. C