The fusion of old and new is no longer a groundbreaking concept in the world of contemporary menswear. Almost every brand is telling us how they’re ‘looking to the past to create clothing for the future.’ Visvim, however, is a brand that has championed this concept, setting the benchmark for how it can be defined in the production of clothing and footwear alike.
Visvim is a Japanese brand known for its time-honored clothing and footwear that blends Americana ruggedness with artisanal Japanese traditions. With such a strong presence in the menswear world, we’re taking a moment to shine the spotlight on this indigo stalwart.
Brand History & Philosophy
Visvim was founded in 2001 by Hiroki Nakamura. Born in Kofu, Japan, Nakamura grew up in eighties Tokyo, spending most of his teenage years in the capital. Fashion in post-war Japan was largely informed by casual American clothing and Nakamura soon gained an understanding – and a fascination – of Americana style.
Encouraged by his parents to study in countries where little Japanese was spoken, Nakamura ended up traveling to Alaska. This relocation gave Nakamura the opportunity to spend a lot of time exploring rural America, camping, and snowboarding. In addition to these new outdoor activities, Nakamura traveled all over northern Alaska, staying with multiple indigenous groups along the way to gain an understanding of their lifestyles.
Upon moving back to Japan, Nakamura’s love of snowboarding him landed him a design job with the Japanese division of Burton Snowboards. During his eight year occupation with Burton, Nakamura obsessed over American clothing and footwear, particularly work boots and moccasins he would pick up during visits to the states.
With an obsessive, ever-growing collection of vintage clothing and a wealth of practical design knowledge from his tenure at Burton, Nakamura decided to form his own label. In 2001, he began producing sneakers and shoes, christening his project Visvim. Rumor has it that the brand name was formed after Nakamura noticed the words Vis and Vim in a Latin dictionary.
Shortly after forming his brand, Nakamura designed the Visvim FBT. Now an esteemed cult sneaker, the FBT was inspired by Nakamura’s enthusiasm for traditional Native American moccasins – a piece of footwear he would have undoubtedly encountered during his stints in the tribes of rural Alaska. The Visvim FBT took the fringed/collared upper of a conventional native American moccasin and replaced the leather sole with an EVA-phylon midsole, also adding additional heel counters and a synthetic footbed.
The name of this revolutionary sneaker came from English new-wave group, Fun Boy Three. Rumor has it that the Japanese streetwear don, Hiroshi Fujiwara, pointed out Fun Boy Three member Terry Hall’s moccasins on the front cover of their 1984 ‘best of’ compilation.
The Visvim FBT was a swift success, providing Nakamura with a platform on which to build his label. Just one year later, Nakamura began adventuring into ready to wear clothing to support his footwear-based collections. By 2005, Visvim was a fully fledged menswear label producing all manner of footwear and clothing. Early Visvim apparel was largely influenced by military garb, with Nakamura using his technological knowledge obtained from his years at Burton to bolster his product with contemporary updates such as Gore-Tex.
Initially filed in the streetwear category, Visvim product slowly progressed over the decade in line with Nakamura’s personal taste, style, and vision. He dubbed his style of clothing design ‘future vintage’, a concept that hopes to produce timeless clothing that references the past without being a stale reproduction. Speaking to GQ in 2013, Nakamura states: “I want to create things that can be vintage in the future. That’s my goal: Future vintage.”
Many of the sneakerheads who coveted the FBT sneaker also grew enjoy the sophisticated, artisanal clothing that Nakamura produced. Visvim became known as an end-level brand in terms of quality and craftsmanship, with Nakamura always exploring new ways to enhance garments with age-old production techniques and modern technologies, often at the same time.
Visvim is still headed by Hiroki Nakamura and headquartered in Tokyo. The brand has brick-and-mortar stores across East Asia, and is stocked in a curated selection of over one hundred boutique retailers across the globe. The brand now consists of the Visvim mainline and a womenswear line called WMV.
Nakamura approaches retail stores in a unique way, opening F.I.L. (Free International Laboratory) concept stores in addition to the Visvim flagship location. F.I.L. stores offer a generously lit, spacious retail space filled with a small but coherent collection of stock and decor. Many Visvim products are exclusive to certain F.I.L. locations and extremely limited. Often compared to exhibitions or galleries, F.I.L. stores often play no music and each store burns its own exclusive incense.
Furthermore, the F.I.L. Indigo Camping Trailer (I.C.T.) product is presented, quite literally, in a forties-era camping trailer set up in pop-up locations. In addition to an indigo-laden stock selection, the I.C.T. locations also exhibit and sell vintage pieces and exclusive jewelry.
Visvim has continued to pioneer a wabi-sabi approach to clothing and footwear production. Each product is informed by the past, present, and future, with Nakamura’s influences and interests always evident. Keen to ancient and alternative production methods, Nakamura often uses traditional, time consuming dyeing techniques such as mud and natural indigo.
However, this sartorial ingenuity does have an impact on the price point. The majority of Visvim product is over $500, leaving affordability as a big issue for some people who want to access the brand. Nakamura justifies his prices by ensuring customers his products will last, and adding a measure of transparency to his production processes in his regular ‘dissertations’ that relate to current Visvim offerings and various projects that he may be working on.
Speaking to Mr. Porter, Nakamura says “Sometimes I use natural indigo yarns from Japan, I bring all those yarns to France, work with artisans in France, and make a crochet sweater.” Whether this level of commitment to a holistically artisan product warrants such high price points is debatable, but Visvim keeps coming back year after year, with clothing that is always a point of discussion, appreciation, and interest.
Iconic Visvim Products
Visvim FBT Veggie Suede
Visvim’s calling card has taken many forms over the years, but this edition is the FBT is in purest form. This pair are made up with a premium vegetable tanned suede upper with moccasin construction, complete with beaded leather tassels and a collared ankle. Threaded with contrasting leather laces, these FBTs sit on a Vibram sole.
$799 at End Clothing.
Social Sculpture Denim
Visvim first ventured into the world of denim with their ‘Fluxus’ range of jeans back in the mid-2000s. The Social Sculpture line is a direct result of Nakamura’s burning passion for indigo denim and vintage jeans. The Fluxus line featured less conventional details like zippered pockets and snakeskin waist patches, but Social Sculpture jeans have a much more archetypal, five-pocket aesthetic.
This pair of Social Sculpture 04 Jeans come in a slim fit with a low rise. Constructed form unwashed, rope-dyed Japanese selvedge denim, they come complete with a zipper-fly and indigo-dyed Elk suede patch.
$535 at End Clothing.
Cordura 20L Veggie Suede Backpack
A grail for many Visvim fans, the 20L backpack is a highly durable bag constructed with the finest materials. Build from tough Cordura nylon, this backpack features a waterproof zipped main compartment with internal laptop sleeve and a padded back for extra comfort. Complete with padded shoulder straps and an ergonomic fit, this piece is finished with coated hardware, leather pull-tabs on each zip, and of course, a vegetable-tanned suede base.
$799 at End Clothing.
Lead image via Highsnobiety