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Words by Mr Dan Rookwood

20 November 2014

Mr Hiroki Nakamura, whose brand is revered by workwear and denim heads alike, explains why craftwork runs through every stitch of his designs.

The mere mention of visvim is enough to elicit a Pavlovian response among streetwear obsessives. The clothes are perfectly imperfect with a fetishistic attention to subtle details (think button-fly chinos that look as if they were lovingly restored from Army surplus, or work shirts with mother-of-pearl or wooden buttons). Messrs Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Eric Clapton are all fans. Mr John Mayer reportedly owns $55,000-worth of visvim and rarely wears anything else.

This partnership is starting off the back of a long conversation between visvim and MR PORTER, and we consider it a real coup to have the brand on board. Indeed, its tightly controlled distribution only makes visvim more elite. 

What makes it so special? Mr Nakamura, who grew up in Tokyo but studied in Alaska, refuses to make a single compromise in his obsession with perfection. He started visvim in 2001 with shoes, focusing his attention on absolute comfort and construction. Only the finest leathers are used, such as cordovan (the fibrous shell beneath the horse rump) from the revered Horween tannery in Chicago, and the shoes often have liner-less inners and natural cork footbeds for comfort and breathability – making them perfect for going sockless. Much of visvim’s footwear is also Goodyear welted.

Mr Nakamura soon translated his footwear design and manufacturing philosophy to clothes. Many of his garments are made from Sea Island or Egyptian Giza cotton, two of the finest strains of the fibre in the world due to their super-long staples. He spent five years on a waiting list to join the Sea Island committee before they allowed him to use the cotton for streetwear. (It is usually restricted to Jermyn Street shirtmakers and high-end polo shirt manufacturers.)

Selvedge denim also received the specialist treatment; visvim’s denim line is called Social Sculpture because, as Mr Nakamura explains, it is “constructed from the yarn up” and the process of dismantling the denim and reconstructing it to make it stronger is akin to sculpture.

Most of his exclusive fabrics are coloured with natural dyes that are impossible to control uniformly. This leads to variations in colour and unevenness – a quality that Mr Nakamura prizes. “It won’t be perfect, there’s an element you can’t predict, but I like that,” he says. “It’s key to our product.”

He likens his method to using the best organic fresh produce when cooking. “If you eat fresh food or fresh fruit, it tastes great; you can’t compare it to processed food,” he says. “My focus is to make good products with natural materials so that the organic and natural element comes out.”

To do this means blending old and new techniques. Mr Nakamura is an inveterate collector of items with patina, things that tell a story. He is a particular fan of vintage Americana and Native American culture and this comes through in his designs featuring Native American prints and patterns, and in his iconic tasselled FTB moccasin sneakers. He is a staunch advocate of preserving artisanal handmade craftsmanship while at the same time embracing cutting-edge technology so that his products represent the best of both worlds – or what he calls “future vintage”. Of course, this comes at a price. “I’m introducing the option that, maybe instead of buying five jackets, you can buy one that will last longer. I want to create things that can be vintage in the future,” says the designer by way of justification.

The name visvim was chosen more for aesthetics than semantics: Mr Nakamura simply wanted a “V” logo, although vis is the Latin word for energy or force, and vim means exuberant. The brand itself stands for integrity and purpose. “There’s a real pleasure in owning something with intrinsic value and in developing a fondness for something you’ve owned a long time,” says Mr Nakamura. “I love a product that lives with me, follows my life and looks better with time.”

Mr Nakamura doesn’t think of himself as a fashion designer. “No, I’m just a guy making products,” he says. In this short film we go behind the scenes at visvim to see just how he makes them.


Film by Pundersons Gardens