‘What are the moments you find happiness in your home?’ I posed this question to Hiroki Nakamura, the designer of Visvim. Nakamura, who was seated comfortably on a leather sofa in the foyer, turned his gaze outside, paused for a moment, then looked at me and said, “Okay, I’ll let you experience it for yourself. Please come up and sit here.” He led me to the tatami-floored living room, and I did as I was told. In the moderately-sized garden, I noticed the plum tree in full bloom. As the soft afternoon sunlight penetrated the space and petals danced in the wind, he said, “This. This is the moment: I’m sitting here, my wife is drinking coffee next to me, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to create next—that’s my moment of happiness.” He lives with his wife Kelsi, who is the designer of Visvim’s women’s line WMV together with Nakamura, in a large residence that was built during the Edo period. Nakamura had wanted to live in an old Japanese house, and while searching, he found this place online. He immediately faxed in an application while he was on a business trip to the U.S. The moment he returned to Japan and viewed the house in person, the decision was clear.
Fast forward 15 years, he still enjoys calling this place his home. Nakamura points out, “For my profession, it’s important for me to be able to ‘feel’. I think becoming one with nature stimulates and sharpens my senses. This is an old, traditional Japanese abode, so we deal with drafts in winter and mosquitoes in summer. Raccoons and civets visit our attic. But when the plum trees in the garden are in full bloom like today, you can smell it from inside the house. We also have cherry blossoms and Japanese maple trees planted in the garden, and I can feel the four seasons even when I’m indoors. This feeling has close ties to my concept of creation—I’m often inspired by the old ways of making things.”
Since its establishment in 2000, Visvim’s products have been created with the concept of universality and long-lasting craftsmanship at its core. Its fountain of inspiration is the details reflected in traditional crafts from around the world and skills cultivated over time by craftsmen. Visvim’s role is to reimagine these elements for the modern world. Craftsmanship is something that has been handed down from generation to generation, taking ideas and hints from the past and improving them along the way—not only in clothing but also in architecture and tools—this philosophy is Nakamura’s design in a nutshell.
“Modern architecture separates the outside and the inside spaces,” Nakamura adds. “That’s not my style. For example: when I stay in a hotel on a business trip, the room temperature is controlled by AC. This makes my senses go out of balance and numb; I can’t ‘feel’ anymore. I don’t wish to take control over nature; rather, I want to coexist with it. So, my ideal living condition is living outside half of the time. We humans are one with nature, aren’t we? I prefer environments where I can experience that, and I believe that this also contributes to my creative work. If you look at nature, the Earth, and other things from a bird’s-eye view, you’ll see that we are all pieces of the same puzzle. We humans shouldn’t divorce from that. I like that concept.”
While living here, Nakamura realized how efficient and functional traditional Japanese houses were built in the past. “The wall outside is a traditional clay wall. It was built about ten years ago using a mixture of fermented straw and soil, but it’s actually mobile,” explains the designer. “The tatami mats in the living room were replaced 11 years ago when we had our wedding here. Initially we got modern tatamis. However, they had plastic linings on the back, and the moment we replaced them, the air in the house stopped flowing—it became stuffy and felt like the house stopped breathing. Later, I had them replaced with traditionally made tatami mats; the air started to circulate, and the house cooled down. This was because the bottom of the tatami mats acts as a vent. I was amazed at the traditional manufacturing methods used in Japan.
Most people aren’t aware of it, but construction of natural materials suit the local Japanese climate, so they are surprisingly functional. Same goes for the shoes we make at Visvim. I use natural materials for the parts that directly contact the skin. I don’t use pigments, because the dye clogs the pores of the material and makes them non-breathable. I exclusively use vegetable tanned leather to prevent their natural tissues from breaking down, creating stuffy shoes as a result. Same goes with this house—it has great ventilation and permeability thanks to the air circulation.” As Django Reinhardt’s rich guitar sounds reverberate throughout the house from a JBL Paragon placed in the back of the living room, Nakamura continues: “I listen to all genres of music, but I prefer raw sounds that sound as if it was recorded with a single microphone.
It’s not digital, yet it’s not simply analog—when you sit here and listen, it sounds like live acoustic. It’s the best.” I wondered how Nakamura selected the things that help lift his spirits up in his daily life, filling his house with intriguing never-before-seen objects. Obviously, nothing trendy was found here; perhaps they were vintage items from abroad.
“When I go digging for objects, I often go to antique fairs and dealers, but always I look for things that move me. For example, I might see a plate that makes me want to eat a piece of fruit from and so I buy it; that’s a good enough reason for me. The one thing that I’ve kept with me over the years are my sunglasses. I love the shape, and they’ve been my only pair for a long time. Information or history surrounding these objects is not important to me—I also don’t exclusively select vintage objects. See that side table on the veranda? It looks like something I found on the street—but so long as I like it, who cares? Most importantly: make decisions through your own lens, not someone else’s. Don’t worry about what others might say. And when it comes to vintage clothes, something about them just screams ‘cool’ to me. I can’t explain in words, but this was where it all started for me. I’ve been delving deeper into my own senses ever since and questioning why I feel a certain attraction toward something— and here we are,” smiles Nakamura.
Nakamura has maintained a consistent and unwavering attitude in his selection and manufacturing of products. However, as the year of pandemic forced the world to shift drastically along with people’s values, I asked if he too changed psychologically. He replied, “That would be too long of a story—so let’s just talk about positive changes, shall we? The good thing now is that I don’t have to spend as much time on the road as I used to. I spent more time with my family. Thanks to the trusting relationships we’ve built with our suppliers over time, I realized I didn’t need to travel so often anymore—in fact, online meetings were adequate and allowed me to use my time wisely. Even when things return to normal—when we can fly around the world freely again—I might not travel as much I did before. In many ways, I think I recognized what was not essential; the pandemic gave us an opportunity to rethink about what really matters.
Of course, there is no change in the brand’s attitude or mission to producing what we truly believe in—like offering products that get better with age and creating only what we can wholeheartedly recommend to people. Our philosophy is making great products through the filter of time, and that’s here to stay. Japanese craftsmen possess sincerity and pride in pursuing perfection. For example, they are capable of impeccably reproducing hues according to our instructions. This skill is not only technical but a result of a spiritual accumulation; and now has become the backbone of our creative process. I’m intrigued by their mentality, and I admire them dearly. Without their devotion, we wouldn’t be able to realize our products. Mentality, philosophy, and ethics play important roles in our creative process.” By focusing on what’s truly meaningful, Nakamura’s consciousness is now shifting more toward spirituality.
Last but not least, I asked him to share with us some of the things that have shaped his philosophy and creative processes. He brought out his Native American concho belt and moccasin collections. He explains, “When silver was introduced to them by the Europeans, they adapted it to be part of their fashion and made ornaments out of it. When we saw the belts, we were inspired—we modified the shape and made new belts. These moccasins—they use buffalo tendons for the soles, and they are highly functional. Now let me show you the cushion mats filled with silk wadding. In the past, Japanese people often wore clothes filled with silk wadding. Unlike down, they warm up with friction. It’s also such a great material because it’s flexible and drapes well, making it easy to create desired silhouettes—that’s why we used it in our collection. Like concho belts and moccasins, we get inspirations from things from the past which then leads to our creations.” A true essence of a person is found when you cherish what you love and live a life true to yourself. Nakamura, who just celebrated his 50th birthday, seems to have achieved that goal.
Hiroki Nakamura was born in 1971 and founded Visvim in 2000. Since 2013, he is the Designer/Creative Director of its women’s line WMV. He continues to create products that get better and age beautifully over time.
|Photo Yusuke Abe||Interview & Text Ryo Tajima||Edit Takayasu Yamada
English Translation Akiko Watanabe & Rei Matsuoka