Visvim: Hiroki Nakamura Issue (6)

Hiroki Nakamura approaches fashion with vagrant fascination. Working in menswear in his earlier years, he’s seen trends come and go, clothing become more generic and it’s quality downgraded. He then created Visvim, a product that fulfilled the authenticity that he was searching for. Laura Vignale talks to Hiroki about his brand and philosophies.

 

What kind of trouble did you get into back in your younger years?

I was always getting into trouble. I was working for Burton in the action sports industry back then and I was traveling a lot with all the team riders. It was so much fun.

What does Visvim mean? Is their a story behind the name?

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.

Why did you decide to create Visvim anyways?

I always wanted to make my own product. I wanted to create something authentic. I have  been studying what other brands had produced and I felt the need to produce my own.

(Hiroki’s personal travel photos)
Did working at Burton make you a businessman? Did your experience influence your work ethic?

 

My family has a manufacturing business so I always wanted to start my own business. I knew I couldn’t
have anyone else run my business for me. For me it’s important to drive the business and the creative.
It’s a delicate balance.
Is it important to you to create a product that is integral?

In order to continuously develop nice products, you need to have the time. Sometimes it takes years in
my head before I can start to develop and produce a product. There are products that just came into
the market now that have been works in progress for the last ten years!
Can you tell us about the material “Cordovan” and how you integrated it into your design?

 

We have currently uploaded a short movie up on our website about our new shoes that we just released  using this material called Cordovan. Cordovan is a type of equine leather. It’s more like a fiber because  it’s actually the fibrous shell beneath the hide and the rump of the horse. It’s best known for it’s use on  military and riding boots. It’s expensive and it takes a long time to produce.
I wanted to use Cordovan because I didn’t want to make a disposable shoe. So with this thought in mind, I created a sneaker with a replaceable sole that you can be removed and replaced. Once your sole is  worn through you can bring it back to my store, and I’ll replace it with a new one.
Also I spoke with my Cordovan supplier in Chicago and I decided that if I was going to make a sneaker  that was that expensive, I wanted the customer to be able to get the perfect fit in sizing. So now you  come into the store and we measure you foot to ensure a custom fit.
Do you believe that it is important for your products to last and age well with time?

 

That’s happiness to me! 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. That way you have “Laura’s shoes” and then there “Hiroki’s shoes”. 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. 

A few years ago you told me you went to Italy to learn from a master leather maker, and then
the following season you went North to run with wild animals and learn to make shoes from
the local people there. Do you think you are nomadic in the way that you wander in search of
the best methods and supply?

That’s what I like. I like to research. I don’t make these products by myself. I also want to work with the
best manufacturers. I’m trying to make an industrial product that has my personal touch.  I might get
inspiration from Norway or Italy.
If I can watch the process from beginning to end then I can put my personality into the product (and
know that it has integrity.) I think in any creation it’s important to put your philosophy into it. I’m sad
when I see things being produced without any personal feelings.
Do you have any secrets you would like to reveal on how you produce these great quality
products?

I want to tell you a story.
I work with these two Italian textile designers. They are largely unknown but they supply fabrics to some
of the best high-end fashion designers. One day they came to my shop and saw my products and told me
they wanted to show me something. The asked me to please come to Italy. So I went to their factory in
Como and they showed me their archives.  There was a 1meter sample of fabric of everything they have
produced in the last 150 years. It was amazing! 

Now they are using a new technology in their factory but they still keep the same level of quality that they have maintained for all those years. There’s no question that the ones made by hand still have more feeling and personal touch, but this new machine technology was thoughtfully created so that the philosophy on how the fabric that it produces is still pure and high end. That’s how they are creating their products and that’s
now exactly what I am doing too.

Why do you call your store F.I.L (Free International Laboratories)?
My brand took a lot time to develop so I didn’t want to call us a brand at that time. When I first opened my
stores, I wanted it to be a working laboratory. I wanted it to go beyond Japanese borders and be an
International product.
Do you feel traditionally Japanese?

This is a really difficult question to answer. I actually ask myself this question too. For me it’s interesting to try to understand different cultures. I think I naturally do because I’m always traveling and I am exposed to so many different types of people. So I guess it depends. For example, with my team in Japan I use Japanese standards and with my Europeans vendors I have to use Europeans standards. I like American culture. When I was a teenager, I was definitely influenced by it. I’m a big fan of American Menswear, especially 1950’s, 60’s and 70s. To me its important having this kind of democratic philosophy towards everything that is very unique and creative. It encourages a creation of something new. I try to keep my eyes open to all cultures around me.

What is your favorite thing to eat?

Japanese food is very unique. When you grow up with this kind of culture around food it’s hard to get away from it. I know all the good Japanese restaurants outside of Japan.

(Photos: 5.6.7. by Laura Vignale)
How important is nature in your work?
I really like natural authentic things, like leather and food, and fish! You can’t really compete with the authenticity of something from nature. To me it’s very important. I’m not necessary trying to be eco or anything, but if you  eat fresh food or fresh fruit, it taste great. You can’t compare it to processed food. My focus is to make a good product with natural materials so that the organic and natural element comes out of it.
What inspires you the most?

Inspiration comes from everywhere. Like talking to someone like you, I get ideas from our conversation, and visiting places like Montauk. In my head I am focused on making good products and then the creative inspiration I get from my experiences adds to it.

Do you think of yourself a fashion designer?

Actually no, I’m just a guy making products. I’m not that sensitive. It’s very simple. It’s not a big deal. You can call me anything you want, but I’m just a guy making products.

Is there another brand out there that you feel is especially relevant right now? Who would you want to collaborate next with?
I like people who are making good stuff. Maybe they aren’t well known. Like those guys in Italy I told you about. Just talking to them gave me so much joy. I love when people are passionate.  Like this French guy I met in Mexico who had so much passion for western boots! He actually moved to Mexico and to start his own brand. No one really knows about him in the fashion industry but he’s there making great products. There are a lot of people out there like that.  They inspire me. I love working and sharing ideas with people like that.
(Hiroki’s personal travel photos)