Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hiroki Nakamura: Visvim's founder talks shop

I've often wondered what makes Hiroki Nakamura tick. He seems like such an agreeable, friendly chap, but then he goes and triples the price of his Visvim clothing and I wonder if there isn't a touch of the capitalist monster about him.

It wouldn't be difficult to weave a conspiracy theory around Visvim's strategy. They've priced a lot of their customers out of the market with no discernable improvement in quality. At the same time they have sized-down their garments, so the size that would have fitted you three years ago would be too small if you bought it today. In other words Visvim has brought its sizing more in line with its Japanese peers.

Buying the stuff is as difficult as ever. Visvim still isn't officially available online and the website, Visvim.TV, only ships within Japan.

It all points to a brand that is making every effort to lose customers, especially in Europe.

Instead, Visvim has become the niche luxury label of choice. The very fact that it is so hard to get is sustaining a thriving sub-economy, with used items fetching high prices on Ebay thanks to their renowned quality and Japanese sellers acting as middle men between the F.I.L store and the buyer.

Whether Visvim founder Hiroki Nakamura is aware of the alternative economy his brand has spawned remains to be seen, but it is evident that his perception of Visvim's reach is a little detached from the reality.

"I wanted it to go beyond Japanese borders and be an international product," he recently told Zero1 Magazine.

Shoes and bag from Visvim's 2009
collection, including disection of Folk sole
This is apparently why he named his Japanese store Free International Laboratory, or F.I.L, to reflect the cross-border philosophy.

Much of Visvim's creations are re-interpretations of classic garments, brought up to date with technical fabrics or luxury materials. This gives them a timeless quality and is also the only way to go when you take as long to come up with stuff as Hiroki does.

"Sometimes it takes years in my head before I can start to develop and produce a product," he continues. "There are products that just came into the market now that have been works in progress for the last ten years!"

The timescale between conception and production becomes irrelevant unless you're a fashion designer, which Hiroki insists he isn't: "I’m just a guy making products. I’m not that sensitive. It’s very simple. It’s not a big deal."

Ironic then that Visvim always seems to lead the mainstream designs by a season or two. Think mocassins with trainer soles, outerwear with coloured tape seams (Nike and adidas). The list goes on. With his innovation Hiroki has become an accidental influence.

If this is intentional, it is not something he is prepared to own up to. The real irony is that Visvim products will most likely outlive the pieces they have influenced. What's more, as they are used they will develop their own characteristics.

"I love a product that lives with me, follows my life, and looks better with time. Every individual creates a unique experience in his or her shoe. Over the years the two shoes will look completely different. The condition of the product was the same in the store. That was just the starting point."

This longevity is down to more than simply the manufacturing process - it begins with the materials.

"My focus is to make a good product with natural materials so that the organic and natural element comes out of it," Hiroki continues.

Which could be why he's put his prices up. Perhaps it has just dawned on Hiroki Nakamura that the quality of his goods could actually be his undoing, when everyone is still wearing the stuff 20 years down the line.

Visvim Virgil Folk
What's in a name? Nothing, as it turns out.

My girlfriend has renamed it Victim (she's unaware there is a brand out there which already uses that monicker) and upon first glance the word Visvim seems like something that should be on the label of a cleaning product.

Amazingly, there is no secret message behind the name, as Hiroki points out: "I wanted it to have a brand with no meaning and wanted to make up my own name. I started researching and eventually started looking into the the latin dictionary to find inspiration.  I liked V-lettered logos so I looked through the 'V' section of the dictionary. I found 'vis', then  I found 'vim' and visually I liked how they looked together. The word 'Vis' does have a kind of positive meaning around the idea of force and energy; things coming together.

Thanks to Laura Vignale at Zero1 Magazine for the quotes I poached. Please click the link to read her interview in full.

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  1. interesting stuff. have to say i much prefer the aesthetic he had a couple of years back when it really was just re-interpretations of classics (07 was the the turning point). i think the label's a bit lost with the 'outdoors' gear and now its new international luxe direction. i don't think it's particularly bad (definitely not for me) but as he said, visvim meaning nothing was so he could focus on product, well visvim stands for a very specific 'look' nowadays.

    also would say the sizing isn't to do with competing with peers for the japanese market, but just where the natural evolution of the label lead to... much slimmer 'fashiony' cuts .

  2. The key reason why Visvim's sizes have got smaller is in line with general trend of closer fitting clothes. When Visvim came out about 10 years ago it was at the height of the streetwear boom. The fit and asthetic was very much inspired by a bagier, looser American sportswear fit.
    My other point re Visvim is i actually dont think the clothes age very well or look better with age like certian repro/vintage inspired brands. You ever see Hiroki wearing clothes that arent box fresh? The shoes dont age well like say a pair of brogues. Technical outawear dosent look better with age etc.

  3. Valid points, but I don't really agree that Visvim's down-sizing is to make it closer fitting, or if it is the reason, then they've done a pretty shoddy job of it. There are ways to achieve a slimmer silhouette without reducing the entire pattern dimensions, which is what they seem to have done to me.
    As for longevity, I see your point. I have Dunks that look as good for their age as Visvims, and I've yet to own any clothing long enough without reselling to be able to pass judgement there.
    That said, my raw fluxus have to be the hardest-wearing jeans I have bought. They're now coming up to their fifth year and the denim has barely started to fade.
    Thanks for your input.