When Hiroki Nakamura founded visvim sixteen years ago, the Japanese artisanal, workwear-inspired menswear brand rocked the industry with its niche folkwear designs. As long as he has been around, an underlying theme that has been consistent across Nakamura’s designs is drawing inspiration from the past.
“The first time I started to get interested in clothing was when I saw a pair of vintage denim at a vintage clothing store during my early teenage years,” Nakamura recalled.
“I was immediately mesmerized by the distinct presence of authentic vintage items.”
Whether it’s vintage Americana, Japanese Edo-era kimonos, Native American blankets, Amish patchwork fabric or French factory wear, Nakamura has continually used the past as inspiration for visvim’s collections.
Arguably the cult folkwear brand’s most recognizable silhouette, visvim’s moccasin-inspired footwear quickly became highly coveted, as seen on many notable streetwear icons including John Mayer, A$AP Rocky and Kanye West. However, this was the result of much more than an aesthetically pleasing runway trend. When Nakamura was first introduced to reindeer suede, he immediately sought to learn more about how the material was really used. This led him to spend some time in Lapland, Finland to see exactly how the Sami, an indigenous Scandinavian group, used footwear made of reindeer suede and stuffed with hay to keep their toes warm all year round.
Nakamura, who was born in Japan and now resides in Los Angeles, has carved out his own development processes that take this inspiration from the past and fuses it with his own creative insights and modern technology. This is what makes visvim so special. The simplistic application, the never ending curiosity and the intricate stories behind the products.
Naturally, Nakamura and his team wanted to carry this vintage characteristic over to visvim’s range of denim. However, even after countless attempts and experiments, they continually encountered barriers and could not successfully reproduce the unique feeling of vintage denim. Their manufactured damaged denim was missing the distinct “dry feeling” that authentic vintage denim possesses.
“This detail, which is produced from the finely woven fabric, is further emphasized when the denim is continuously worn under the strong West Coast sun and washed over and over again using powerful American washing machines,” Nakamura added. “How could we reproduce the authentic character created over the years in the environment in which the denim was used in and through the lifestyles of the people wearing them?”
A finishing process that is conducted by hand on each product individually using natural dye and paint, visvim has come up with a special treatment that involves painstakingly removing the oil found in the fibres of the denim. This method has slowly been developed and refined by Nakamura and his team over the years, working to reproduce the texture and unevenness of vintage denim fabric. The technique used by Nakamura is extremely complex and normally, he maintains, should not be used for natural fibres.
As a result of the unnatural treatment, shrinkage of the products was initially extremely severe and often difficult to control. The stitches are also shrunk, so the width of the denim became fine and narrow. However, after repeated tests, visvim’ was able to come up with their original technique “DRY DENIM®” which stabilized the shrinkage and features tightly woven fabric and a dry and deep texture. The individually hand-painted copper buttons that were produced solely for this denim add the finishing touch.
“We were finally successful in incorporating the appeal found in vintage items, not just in terms of surface appearance but texture as well,” Nakamura said. “The textures, colors, and finishing processes are different with each pair of this unique denim, and we hope that you compare each of them at our store as if you’re searching for the right pair of vintage denim.”
Perhaps the antithesis to fast fashion, there is much to be said about the artisanal approach of Nakamura and visvim to their designs, which only get better with time, or as he calls it “future vintage.” But embodying a single minded methodology is exactly why the cult label has earned its loyal following who simply want to come along for the ride.
Words by Braeden Alexander. Photo’s © visvim.