Inside the Cult Menswear Boutique Now Open in DTLA's Historic Bradbury Building
Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Eric Clapton, A$AP Rocky, Drake and John Mayer are all fans of Japanese-meets-Americana workwear brand Visvim.
Downtown L.A. just got a little cooler.
Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Eric Clapton, A$AP Rocky, Drake and John Mayer are all fans of the Japanese-meets-Americana workwear brand Visvim, which has put down stakes at DTLA's historic Bradbury Building with a 3,000 square-foot Exposition concept store featuring rotating products and installations.
Bandana prints, Japanese-style workwear shirts, selvedge denim and hand-stitched kimono jackets are signatures of the menswear brand founded in 2000 by Hiroki Nakamura, and its five-year-old sister line WMV co-designed by Nakamura’s wife Kelsi, who grew up in Seattle. The couple lives between homes in Tokyo and the South Bay region of Los Angeles, where Nakamura designs the majority of his work with an east-meets-west aesthetic.
On Friday, musician John Mayer (known to be one of Visvim’s biggest customers) walked out of the new boutique carrying a couple super-size shopping bags of swag. Kanye West and A$AP Rocky have long rocked Visvim’s iconic fringed F.B.T. hybrid moccasin-sneakers (starting at $690) crafted from vegetable-tanned leather or suede; Pharrell Williams, Drake and Eric Clapton are also fans of the brand.
“Most of my menswear is inspired by utility clothes, uniforms and workwear,” says Nakamura. “We try to make things that you can enjoy for a long time and that will age nicely as you wear them.”
The company partners with historic ateliers and mills in Japan, America, Europe and Taiwan to keep traditional artisanal craftsmanship techniques alive and to develop their own fabrics, tanning methods, buttons, trims and dyes — most notably natural indigo. “Maybe 60 percent of the artisans are Japanese because they still have little workshops that cater to kimono culture,” says Nakamura. “But I grew up being inspired by Americana since I was a young teenager so I also work with Horween Leather Company in Chicago [founded in 1905 and one of the oldest tanneries in the U.S.].”
Beyond carrying select pieces from the Visvim and WMV collections, the new store stocks an exclusive-to-L.A., military-inspired Contrary Dept. collection with an outdoorsy vibe that’s named after a society of Native American soldiers who proved their bravery by riding backwards on horseback into battle. “They did it to remind themselves that if you do things in a routine way that you cannot be greater, so it reminds me to be creative,” says Nakamura. The collection, displayed in and around an army green World War II tent, includes camo-print caps and bags, T-shirts hand-painted by Nakamura with C/D logos and other patterns, and outerwear such as a mud-dyed cotton and a nylon jacket lined with alpaca wool and finished with a deadstock military zipper.
The boutique also showcases the F.I.L. [Free International Laboratory] Indigo Camping Trailer collection that is not sold anywhere else in the U.S. The Nakamuras are avid vintage collectors and often incorporate unique finds into their designs, particularly in the Indigo Camping Trailer line that is displayed on a ‘50s airstream trailer. Nakamura points to a $2,200 down-filled vest crafted from vintage ‘50s to ‘80s-era bandanas that are laboriously stitched together. “Then each piece is dyed in natural mud dye on a rice farm in the Amami islands in Japan,” he says. “It’s a volcanic island, so the mud has a lot of minerals that oxidize and change color beautifully. We also collect old Japanese indigo fabrics and frequently use traditional natural indigo dye techniques in our collections.”
Parisian perfume designer Blaise Mautin — who created Visvim’s patchouli-based Subsection Fragrance No.1 candle, perfume and room spray (sold in the new shop) — is on hand for the opening, wearing a $5,000 geometric-patterned Visvim wool kimono coat with velvet trim that Nakamura explains took about 8 months to make. “We developed the wool from naturally dyed threads at our workshop in Tokyo,” he says. “Then the artisans die cut washi paper like that [gestures to a large washi paper pendant lamp in the center of the boutique] in eight different patterns used like stencils to paint the dyes on by hand with a brush.”
Visvim now counts seven retail stores in Japan and, last year, opened their first U.S. boutique in Santa Fe and a temporary pop-up location in New York’s TriBeCa neighborhood. In May, the brand quietly launched a pop-up shop at Brentwood Country Mart in Santa Monica that will remain open through September.
While Nakamura travels the globe for inspiration, his designs are conjured in California. “I travel to so many different countries and then I come back here and sit in our studio on the west side to design; the natural light is so nice in L.A. that I can see color really well,” he says. “I love traditional cultures and techniques, but there’s a special, free-thinking feeling in California.”
Visvim Exposition, 304 S. Broadway, Suite 218 in Los Angeles. and WMV Visvim at Brentwood Country Mart in Santa Monica are both open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.