It started with shoes.
When Gian Jonathan first saw his friend wear a pair of FBT shoes, he was piqued by how they looked. She told him that they were from the Japanese brand, visvim. That planted a seed in Jonathan. Years later, he would show us an ICT (Indigo Camp Trailer) Noragi Kofu outfit and remark on how hard it was to find it. “This was a special release at an Isetan pop-up,” Jonathan says. “If you look at the construction, the patterns may look random but it’s actually coordinated. Check out the indigo fabric and the kasuri design, which is how they…” Jonathan catches himself and apologises for “geeking out”.
It’s understandable to be lost in the world of visvim. It’s a brand that is uncompromising in its usage of traditional construction for its products. The founder, Nakamura Hiroki, was already well-versed in Americana, having spent time all over Alaska. After quitting his job at the Japanese division of Burton Snowboards, Nakamura decided to form his own label, visvim.
By all accounts, the appellation visvim doesn’t mean anything, at least as a whole. Cribbed from a Latin dictionary, Nakamura loved how the words “vis” and “vim” look and decided to use them as a brand name. (Coincidentally, both words mean “power”.) visvim started as a show company but it grew into a thriving business that has found fans in Eric Clapton and John Mayer.
Years later, during a company trip to Tokyo, Jonathan’s girlfriend (now wife) gifted him a pair of visvim shoes. This would seal Jonathan’s fate as a serial visvim collector.
The clothes that Jonathan collects, while some might be precious with them, Jonathan treats most of them like any other pieces of clothing: washed, folded and worn. He took out a pair of red shorts that were made out of bandanas. He points to the vintage indigo patches that cover the holes incurred from constant wear. “My mom would sew some of the holes in my visvim T-shirts and she’ll tell me to throw them away already because of how worn they are,” Jonathan says.
Jonathan takes the cake for being someone with a wardrobe that’s only filled with visvim products. To his credit, he wore other labels like Kapital, which is known for its traditional manufacture. “But the cutting and distressing are a little overwhelming for me,” he says. “It’s too much. For visvim, they know how to balance out the perfect and the imperfect.”
There are some downsides to having such a varied visvim range. For one, the weather in Singapore isn’t the most ideal for some of the thicker pieces. Jonathan can only wear them in cooler climates like Japan. And with the arrival of his two children, Jonathan has to make concessions to his collection. “When the firstborn arrived, he was always grabbing at my visvim jewellery and putting them into his mouth. I had to sell the accessories off. Maybe when they are older, I might start collecting again.”
Back then, when he first started collecting, there wasn’t enough information about how visvim processes its outfits. It was through meeting with other like-minded people, online forums and Google translate that Jonathan was able to develop his knowledge about many of visvim’s esoteric processes.
One such method is katazurizome. It’s a dyeing technic that places paper stencils on top of a fabric and a brush rubs dye into it. This process requires a high level of discipline that only an experienced craftsman possesses.
There’s also a visvim arm that makes products via “natural means”. Called “ICT”, which stands for “Indigo Camping Trailer”, the construction of products can utilise Japanese indigo to traditional mud dyeing techniques to the incorporation of vintage fabrics.
Jonathan feels that he may have about a hundred visvim pieces, the scarcity of space in his home has nudged him to store some of them at his office. His IG account (@gian2) showcases the outfits that he finds interesting. He has somewhat catalogued his collection, or at least, the more precious items. “I told my wife that if anything were to happen to me, don’t anyhow sell my things. Just refer to the list.”
He recounts the time that he bought a fake. “It’s a short-sleeved shirt, naturally dyed with a Japanese print. When it arrived, there were no alarm bells. The fit is the same. It came with its dust bag.” But on the way back, he placed more scrutiny on the item and realised that the prints of the shirt did not bleed through the fabric. The outfit also felt thicker.” Jonathan had an existing shirt and compared the two, which corroborated his suspicions.
These days, Jonathan is more careful; often corroborating with the online visvim community on suspected items online. There is a modicum of awe though in the high technical level of a fake visvim piece. Even fakers who are cashing in on visvim’s popularity are trying to meet the brand’s exacting standards.
There is someone who doesn’t share Jonathan’s enthusiasm for visvim. A framed pair of FBT RICO-FOLK shoes hangs on the wall of the master bedroom. Taken from visvim’s children’s range, the afterthought of Ernest Hemingway’s shortest story popped into our heads. We point to them, Starting them young, we joke.
“Oh, I got that for the firstborn but he doesn’t like it,” Jonathan says, laughing. “He said it wasn’t comfortable."
Photography: Jaya Khidir
Art Direction: Joan Tai
Photography Assistant: Chuen Kah Jun