Eye of the Beholder

Text by David Kenji Chang
Photos by Justin Chung
Video by Marat Shaya & Ben Bertucci

Text by David Kenji Chang
Photos by Justin Chung
Video by Marat Shaya & Ben Bertucci

For nearly two decades, Visvim has been known as much for its astonishing product as its mysterious existence. Now, with a growing presence in Los Angeles, the brand has stepped into the light. David Kenji Chang spent time there with elusive designer Hiroki Nakamura and learned about his creative process, the limits of what Visvim can (and cannot) afford, and the true scope of his uncompromising vision.

*Editor’s note: Quotes in this article have been edited for clarity

It’s just after 2:00 PM in Los Angeles, when the city’s clockwork sun is at its hottest. I’m not sure how long I’ll be waiting in this heat, so pants were a bad choice, but this garage is a lifesaver. The garage is attached to Japanese label Visvim’s new Los Angeles offices and is where I’m scheduled to meet the brand’s elusive creative director Hiroki Nakamura for a photoshoot with one of his vintage cars. I already interviewed Hiroki a week ago—we’ll get to that—and this shoot was offered at the last minute with little detail of exactly what we’d be doing. He might drive us somewhere and I’d probably get to interview him again. Still, it sounded amazing, an offer too incredible to pass up. Now I just have wait. Though, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that Hiroki is making me wait because nobody seemed to know what time he was supposed to arrive to begin with. Just that he would come.

This is normal. Hiroki is notoriously hard to pin down. He’s frequently somewhere unexpected, off the physical and mental grid, extremely busy doing uniquely Hiroki things. Indeed, part of the fantasy of Visvim is the fantasy of Hiroki, a solitary Odyssean figure, doing it all. Dip-dyeing jeans in a vat of indigo in the Shikoku countryside. On his hands and knees digging jackets out of the mud in a rice paddy. Mushing a dog sled across the Arctic Circle in search of reindeer pelts. So I’m not surprised by the wait.

Suddenly an engine roars, and Hiroki barrels up the driveway and into the garage on a 1946 Indian Chief motorcycle. Its hefty body is rusted and peeling. Against the backdrop of the plastic, palm tree-lined, manicured sprawl of LA, Hiroki looks more like he took a wrong turn off the set of a movie about a train robbery, or even exploded out of an interdimensional portal, than just exited the 10 Freeway.

Hiroki has a peculiar capacity for making you feel this way. He has the rugged, rakish handsomeness of peak Toshiro Mifune, and he is always surrounded by very old, very perfectly imperfect things. It’s a true testament to the totality of his stylistic force that Hiroki, a real person alive right now, would visually be more at home in practically any other period of human history—racing a muscle car through Eisenhower’s America, ensconced in plush robes in a Heian court, astride a viking ship in sick outerwear—than ours.

He stomps the bike’s kickstand with his distressed suede boot and unlatches his scratched, yellowing motorcycle helmet. His hair, a wiry tangle of black and gray, is pulled back in a tight ponytail. Somehow, there isn’t a bead of sweat on his brow even though he’s wearing a knee-length coat—of course he’s wearing a coat—with a tote bag slung over his shoulder. His wrists are each stacked with enough silver cuffs to fill a jewelry store display.

If I’m really excited about something, usually our supporters, my team—maybe they might get excited about it too, you know. So if I don’t get excited about it, then maybe I have to take a look and maybe I have to find something else.

The scene is quintessentially Visvim and, almost immediately, he politely asks that we don’t photograph it. “I’m not finished working on this one yet,” he tells us, pointing to the motorcycle. He’d like us to stick to the car in the garage that he’ll be driving, a dilapidated 1957 Porsche 356a. To be clear, there is nothing that indicates this car is more “finished” than the motorcycle. The grey exterior is dull, stripped, and pock-marked. The cracked leather seats look like a collection of old catcher’s mitts. And after Hiroki and his staff put the Porsche in neutral and carefully guide it out into the sun, it refuses to start.

Hiroki peels off his coat to reveal a worn, white t-shirt tucked into a pair of khaki trousers with suspenders—while the rest of the fashion world is re-orienting around belted waistlines and exaggerated shapes, Hiroki has been really into suspenders—and tries, with unfazed persistence, to get the engine to turnover. Ben Bertucci, an automotive documentarian Hiroki asked to help shoot the car, had just affixed a camera rig to the car. He dismantles it. Hiroki goes around to the back and pops the hood. He studies the rear-mount engine like a surgeon. He tinkers. He puts on a chambray button-down with a light Southwestern motif. He climbs back in the car and, with one leg out the driver’s side door, calls out instructions while the car sputters. His team, playing makeshift pit-crew, takes a drinking straw’s worth of gas from the old Indian Chief and tries dripping it into the carburetor to near catastrophe. Finally, after thirty minutes, almost reluctantly, Hiroki turns to jumper cables. The engine finally rumbles to life.

The staff scurries to straighten up. Ben hastily reclamps the cameras to the car.

Hiroki leans out, smiles, and shouts over the growl of the engine.

“Okay, should we go get coffee?”

Hiroki closes the door, does a three-point turn, and takes off. We scramble to follow.

If it isn’t obvious, Hiroki Nakamura does things his way. On his own peculiar terms, on his own painstaking schedule. The man is pathologically himself, even in the tiniest moments. To wit, a week earlier: I meet Hiroki at the brand’s ambitious downtown LA flagship Visvim Exposition. There is no defined schedule that day. He and his wife Kelsi, who designs Visvim’s WMV women’s collection, arrive in a green military utility vehicle that Hiroki parks directly across the street. I wait to greet them at the front door; instead, after some ten odd minutes pass, they stride in through the back. Hiroki is wearing a kimono that is a coat, a green button-down shirt painted like a shoji screen, and those suspenders. He looks effortlessly, singularly amazing. Naturally, he immediately disappears to change. While he’s gone I ask to use the bathroom, but I’m told I probably shouldn’t because, though it functions fine, it’s not ready to be seen yet. It’s the most a bathroom and motorcycle have ever had in common.

This sort of indefatigable, exacting method of existence means that when Hiroki says things like, “When you have a vision in the beginning, you just need to stick with it,”—almost certainly meaningless, pseudo-philosophical babble from most people’s lips—you know he’s dead serious. It’s his guiding principle.

Stretching back two decades to when it first emerged from the Tokyo Ura-Hara scene, Visvim has always been the needle for mainlining Hiroki’s intoxicating visions. At its most magnetic, Visvim’s product is at once familiar and foreign, the reclusive occupant of an uncanny valley where the common—cotton, a dye, an insole, a zipper—achieve uncommon heights. It can possess a hand-made, wabi-sabi magic; sometimes it needs to be touched; sometimes it needs to be seen; sometimes it needs to be worn every day for seven years.

Hiroki claims he pays no attention to contemporary fashion, and the brand has always cruised its own trend-agnostic lane—not streetwear, not luxury, not performance gear, not vintage, but also all of those things. When Visvim does collide with the hype cycle, it is with reluctance: Hiroki has twice pulled his iconic FBT moccasin sneaker from the market when its popularity was surging. “Visvim always beats to its own drum. You can be sure that it’s always beating to its own drum,” Josh Peskowitz, long-time friend of the brand and owner-proprietor of the store Magasin, tells me by phone. “I have some pieces from Visvim that don’t look like anything else in my wardrobe, but go with anything in my wardrobe.”

When you have a vision in the beginning, you just need to stick with it.

Hiroki has always regarded his output with the utter seriousness of fine art. Visvim’s holding company is named Cubism, and he gave many of Visvim’s earliest shoe designs the names of modern artists like Twombly, Flynt, Kiefer, Christo, Hockney, and Beuys. The brand ethos makes it clear that the product is all that matters, and it is worshipped at the cost of almost anything else—affordability, approachability, availability.

Its stores amplify this mission almost to a fault. The first time I tried to visit a Visvim store, a decade ago in Tokyo, I couldn’t find it. And when I did—down a narrow staircase, in a basement—it was uniquely intimidating. Eerily silent and monastic, the displayed product was vexingly limited in quantity and astonishingly priced. Staff were positioned around the room like security guards in the Louvre. I bought nothing.

Visvim’s stores in Japan are all a variation on this theme—somewhat hidden and somewhat disorienting. It isn’t abnormal for a white oxford to be earnestly hung on the same wall as a 150-year-old Navajo blanket. They are surreal museums where the exhibit is the gift shop itself, and they can have a flummoxing effect—once you stumble on it, you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do next and feel a little apologetic for all the commotion you’ve caused by being there.

For years, this all made Visvim feel mysterious. Inscrutable. Exclusive. Fully knowable only to those in possession of some uncommon superlative—the deep-pocketed, the well-connected, the famous. The brand might as well have been the retail version of that fabled class of Tokyo restaurant where you perplexingly can’t get your first reservation unless you’re already a regular. Even today, in the insular, picked-over world of streetwear hype and obsession, Visvim still feels universally known and somehow obscure.

The mystery has changed slightly with this LA store. For one, it is very visible. It has massive, street-facing windows—“a fishbowl”, as one store visitor put it—that bewildered pedestrians are constantly peering into. Hiroki vaguely suggests he might use the space for collaborative projects, something the brand hasn’t done in nearly a decade. And Visvim, which didn’t even have a website until 2008, launched an Instagram account to coincide with its opening, its first ever venture into social media.

Hiroki is taking longer than expected to change, so I take a seat on a small stool. After ten more minutes pass, he re-emerges from the back room, now wearing a loose driving coat. He sits on the couch across from me, a delicately pruned bonsai on the coffee table between us. I ask him about all of this—Visvim’s stores, its elusive past, and its emergent present. His answers surprise me.

“I couldn’t afford to do more,” he tells me. When Hiroki speaks, he is measured and thoughtful. He pauses copiously. But in this moment, his calm voice erupts with a mystique-deflating laugh. “There was no strategy behind it.”

He recalls frantically printing catalogs at Kinko’s. He points out that the first, very small Visvim store—open for one year before relocating to that basement I couldn’t find—was located on a street where rents were cheap across from an elementary school (this has since dramatically changed—that site is now a Bathing Ape flagship surrounded by luxury stores). “That was the best I could do, but it was still cool,” he assures me.

Hiroki repeatedly connects this LA store to those early, scrappier days. Visvim Exposition was the surprising culmination of a sudden and conspicuous flurry of retail activity for Visvim across the US—first an outpost in a one-story house in Santa Fe, then a brief pop-up on a side-street in Tribeca, then a modest shop in a residential corner of Brentwood, projects Hiroki deems more “personal.”  He tells me he had actually been looking for a space for something big for years, first in New York, and when that fell through, in Los Angeles. “I think LA downtown is still relatively… like rents are not so expensive and an independent company like us, we can do something interesting,” Hiroki says. “It’s not so much pressure on the numbers. I thought ‘let’s just do something fun just like we did 15 years ago in Japan.’” Like that Tokyo store, Visvim Exposition is located along a drag of the city that, for at least several blocks in every direction, completely lacks any peer retail presence of meaning.

“A big space like this in New York, I can’t afford it. And I want to do something interesting. That’s my honest opinion.”

Of course, the irony is that there is very little about Visvim that is ever affordable. Visvim Exposition, an expansive room filled with expensive things displayed next to even more expensive things, is no exception. The store is in the Bradbury Building, one of LA’s oldest and most iconic buildings. Contractors needed to remove the store’s facade in order to deliver what are, essentially, decorations: a vintage camping trailer and a hot air balloon-sized cho-chin paper lantern, shipped intact from Japan. The shop is outfitted with a museum’s worth of wildly expensive furniture by American mid-century designer George Nakashima, who himself was a sort of proto-Hiroki, but in reverse (“George Nakashima is someone I respect and love and am into. We use his furniture at home, and in it I can see a lot of Japanese influence, but in America,” he tells me). There is a turntable that broadcasts old Americana like Chet Baker and Benny Goodman through vintage Patrician 800 speaker cabinets. It’s the first background music ever in a Visvim store, and characteristically it’s been percolating for years—Hiroki actually named a pair of dress shoes after these speakers almost ten years ago. “I really liked to listen to vinyl records on these speakers, and thought we could do something fun with them,” he tells me wistfully.

Just a few feet from Hiroki is the pièce de résistance: a gargantuan pair of FBT sneakers, conservatively size 100. They are a kitschy touch of whimsy, complete with a bench in the insole so Hiroki can sit in each like a go-cart. But they represent very real craftsmanship—they were shaped from vegetable tanned suede hides using actual enormous shoe lasts, and have honest-to-God Vibram soles. Just for calibration, FBTs for non-giants cost $700.

All that is to say that when most people use the word “afford”, it is an implied downgrade. There is some kind of central compromise being made. For Hiroki, on the other hand, “afford” means finding a way to accomplish everything without compromising his vision whatsoever. Instead, he’ll compromise on, even deliberately avoid, things most businesses value most critically: for the stores, it’s location; for the product, it’s stuff like scale, efficiency, marketing, and, ultimately, price. “Our goal is we want to keep making the best things we can,” he says, “so that’s what we do.”

It has worked. Hiroki’s “if I make it, they will come” philosophy hasn’t just made him a fashion cult figure; he’s practically a fashion cult leader. Though its limited product runs and lofty prices mean Visvim doesn’t always connect, when it does, it can cause a unique obsession. If you visit any Visvim store for any appreciable amount of time—in Tokyo, in Kanazawa, in Kyoto, in Santa Fe—you are sure to encounter worshippers making international pilgrimages to genuflect at Visvim’s altar. For some people, it practically has the irresistible gravity of a dying star. “There are people out there who literally buy every single thing that Visvim makes. They collect it. It is a passion of theirs,” Josh Peskowitz says. “And I can’t tell you that many clothing brands that have that same fanaticism from such a broad demographic.”

Hiroki, too, clearly loves his product. Anyone who knows Hiroki remotely knows that he gets high exclusively off of his own supply—aside from some occasional vintage pieces, Visvim is all he wears. For a company that does essentially no advertising, Hiroki’s mind-blowing outfits are both Visvim’s best marketing, and for me at least, a significant hurdle for the imagination: Hiroki shows the optimal way to wear, say, a robe made from tree bark, and I immediately understand I could never look as cool in it.

Hiroki shows some items to me. A pair of jeans that have been inventively and impressively destroyed by hand. Shirts made using mud-dyed, patch-work vintage bandanas that until now were only available in Japan. “It’s a Japanese traditional dyeing technique called dorozome that gives it such a different feeling and different depth,” he explains. Then he turns to a heavy reversible jacket from the new Contrary Dept line he launched specifically for this store. Inspired by a World War II vest, one side is a mud-dyed custom cotton/nylon blend with vintage army zippers, and the other is a special alpaca wool lining—“woven, not knit,” he clarifies for me—that possibly has the texture of Sasquatch.

Whenever Hiroki describes his creative process in interviews, he has a sort of superpower origin story he is fond of telling. There are a few different milestone variations—sometimes he’s a child sorting items in his closet, sometimes he’s in Tibet and is ineffably drawn to a crimson robe, for today he’s a teenager in Alaska obsessing over outdoor gear—but they all end the same: with Hiroki sensing an animated energy in an inanimate object.

“That’s kind of like my gauge,” he says. “If I’m really excited about something, usually our supporters, my team—maybe they might get excited about it too. You know so if I don’t get excited about it, then maybe I have to take a look and maybe I have to find something else.” For Hiroki, who proudly wears his inspirations on his billowing yukata sleeves, usually it’s something in the craftsmanship of an object, and its purpose, and how it ages.

I want to use computer technology to make a thing beautiful, not to just try to make it more easily.

Through the years, Hiroki has racked up a lot of muses—outdoor goods, performance wear, military apparel, workwear, kimonos, vintage cars and motorcycles, folk art and artifacts from around the world—and every season he hammers them into one contiguous element that he free associates into new ideas. “I love all traditional culture,” he says. “But the final output from us should be something very unique and different from those traditional things.”

It takes real work and is deliberately inefficient. Every single one of Visvim’s threads, fabrics, dyes, and trims are made completely bespoke for every product, every season, by a global constellation of artisanal workshops. He’s an imperfectionist, and he doesn’t compromise. Hiroki will spend weeks on the exact twist of a yarn, then months trying to make a coat a precise shade of red, then years chasing a specific texture for a pair of jeans. And though Hiroki isn’t exactly a Luddite, Visvim’s use of modern design technology essentially amounts to scanning his hand-drawn designs so they can be emailed and digitally archived. “I want to use computer technology to make a thing beautiful, not to just try to make it more easily,” he says.

It’s all the more cumbersome because the small, old-world workshops that are Visvim’s lifeblood —an Italian leather tannery here or a kimono artisan there—are rapidly dying. “Every season, we lose one or two suppliers. We work with so many different workshops all over the world,” he explains, “and every year, we lose all kinds of workshops, especially small workshops in Japan.” It’s one of Hiroki’s biggest challenges, but not one he gets sentimental about. “Our job is not to try to preserve those techniques. Our job is to connect the market and those crafts. So if I can find something they’re willing to do, my job is to make something that fits in the market.”

Manufacturers can be lost for other reasons. One painful case-in-point—longtime supplier GORE-TEX, indelibly bonded to the fabric of Visvim’s product history, recently stopped working with the brand. “You know, they are a global company, and sometimes where they want to go, it’s not necessarily what we want to do,” he says, taking a long pause. “I don’t know if it’s appropriate to say, but basically they don’t really do small projects anymore.” And just like that, a 16-year partnership ended.

Lucky, then, that even as this constant churn is accelerating, Visvim’s success and notoriety has made the incessant search for water sources to fill the draining pool easier. “Fortunately, it’s much easier now honestly,” Hiroki says. “People have seen our product, even like younger groups in workshops, and they’ll approach us.” It’s certainly easier than the tireless, intrepid travelogue it took to accumulate these inspirations and methods of production in the first place. Hiroki has famously said that for years he didn’t spend more than three days in any one place at a time.

When I ask for recent examples, he mentions a Hiroshima workshop that makes absurdly detailed, handmade denim. He becomes particularly excited about a new tribal workshop on the Chinese-Vietnam border that they worked with for the Spring/Summer 2019 collection. “They use a lot of handspun yarn, hand-woven material,” he says. “And we were collecting vintage fabric from the 19th century. So we requested that they make something like it. Because I had seen their modern fabric, and was like ‘Wow, okay, they can do that, but can they do this.’ And they did.”

When I see the fabric, which has a knotty texture and a fine candy stripe, it is subtle. It’s the kind of thing that might befuddle people when they see the price. It needs the story to communicate the vision. Visvim understands this—the heads of their Japan retail staff relocated to the US specifically to give the new store staff a deep education about the product. But when I ask if he worries people misunderstand Visvim—its prices, its production processes, its philosophy—Hiroki is unconcerned.

“What people see is beyond my control. If they have a misunderstanding that’s probably because people see things differently. But I think that’s okay,” he says. “That’s beyond my control because I just focus on what we do, and some people understand what we understand and that’s great.”

He brims with confidence and shares his only concern. “You know I just don’t want to put ourselves into a situation where we have to do something we don’t like. That’s very important. We just like to put ourselves into the situation where we do what we like. And right now we’re in that situation. So we’re good.”

At this point Hiroki has to shuttle off to another meeting, so we stand and shake hands. Before leaving, Kelsi wants to buy a pair of Christo sandals for their 13-year old daughter Riko to wear to school. Hiroki, meanwhile, decides to change again. He surveys the room and locks onto a tomato-red tunic made of vintage french bandanas. He tries it on in front of the mirror, tucking it in, rolling the sleeves. He poses in it, satisfied, as though, for a moment, he’s able to forget he is the person who made it.

Flash forward a week to us slowly tailing Hiroki’s Porsche through residential streets. I imagine that if LA was the kind of city with pedestrians, his car—a vintage curiosity with cameras mounted on it—would be turning every head.

Hiroki parks the Porsche on a quiet side street and settles on a coffee shop—an anonymous Le Pain Quotidien. When I sit down across from him on the patio, it occurs to me how surreal it is to do something so mundane, so pedestrian, with someone so exceptionally distinct. My intuitive understanding is that Hiroki’s life casually rejects everyday banality. Based on every photo or situation I’ve seen him in to date, he seems to solely exist in his element, magically materializing in harmoniously curated settings wearing some effortlessly mind-blowing outfit, before disappearing again into the ether.

Yet here he is in his trademark sunglasses, on a wooden folding chair, sipping a milky iced coffee, and occasionally tapping the scratched screen of his Blackberry (fittingly, even Hiroki’s smartphone is a reference to a bygone era), his quiet voice competing with chatty housewives and an outrageously loud dump truck.

We talk about a variety of topics. I ask Hiroki about Visvim’s prices. “Some people think I’ve increased prices too much. Maybe they’ve shopped our product for a long time. But then I didn’t know a lot. I wasn’t educated. I was learning still. I couldn’t make the product how I wanted. Now I can make product more like how I want,” he tells me. We talk about Hiroki’s love of music, and briefly touch on the particular affinity very famous musicians seem to have for the brand. “If Mr. John, and Mr. Eric, and Mr. Kanye enjoy my product,” he says humbly, “then I’m very happy about that.”

But mostly, we talk about Kelsi and Los Angeles and their effect on him. Hiroki has spent half of each of the past four years living here with Kelsi and Riko and designing his collections here. In fact, his small production team was just in town from Japan, dotting test fabrics with test dyes to begin developing the Autumn/Winter 2019 collection. “Other cities like Tokyo and Paris and New York are of course great, but they can be very heavy. In Los Angeles things aren’t so old—everything is so new and it feels lighter and more neutral.”

“It’s of course important for me to change my surroundings when I design, and my design team travels with me from place to place—to Japan then to Italy then to France. But it can make me very tired. So it’s nice to come here and reset to neutral,” he says with a smile. “It’s very free here. And that’s important for me.”

Living with Kelsi in California has changed Hiroki’s life. He stopped drinking and eating red meat. He goes to bed earlier and wakes up each day at 5 AM, makes breakfast, and then takes Riko to school. “I used to work all day and night, but this has really made my process much better. I was getting very tired before.” Whereas he used to need to travel to the ends of the earth for inspiration, he now finds inspiration in simpler things—maybe in how a shirt fits Riko, or in one of Kelsi’s designs for WMV. “Everyday, I spend so much time with my wife and my daughter, and my team. And I get so much influence from them.”

For someone who once lived out of suitcases and called a series of collections “A Man with No Country Vol. 1”, “A Man with No Country Vol. 2”, and “A Happiness with No Country”, his life in LA sounds more sustainable. And downright domestic. He admits it took some adjusting, but he’s adapted swimmingly. “I am so excited right now. There were a couple seasons where maybe I was less excited a few years ago, but I think I am maybe the most excited right now. And I’m not worried about running out of new ways to get excited. I’m learning all the time.”

He recounts how he and Kelsi met. She was a vintage dealer in New York helping him stock his vintage archive. When he saw how well she understood his creative idiosyncrasies, he knew she should be the designer for WMV. “She was already a part of my creative process, and she knew how I process inspiration and design. So that’s why I asked her.”

I ask how Kelsi has been as a creative partner, and Hiroki suddenly perks up and says, “You should ask Kelsi! Maybe she can come meet us.” He messages her on his Blackberry.

Once we’ve finished our coffees, I join Hiroki in the Porsche, oven-hot even with the windows rolled down, to drive back to the offices. We talk about writing, Japanese manzai comedy, and LA’s best Japanese restaurants. We talk about my family and his, who still run a food production business in his hometown of Kofu in Yamanashi, Japan.

Later in the day, after another photoshoot, Kelsi arrives, in a wood-paneled 1979 Jeep Wagoneer. Kelsi is from Utah, but looks as though she was born and raised in Laurel Canyon. She has a mess of dirty blonde hair and penetrating, sky-blue eyes; she’s wearing an emerald green, crushed-velvet dress with a slouchy denim jacket and FBT sneakers; heavy turquoise joclas hang from her even heavier turquoise necklace.

I ask Kelsi about her creative partnership with Hiroki. “I mean it’s pretty ideal, right? He’s my husband, he’s my best friend,” she pauses and turns to Hiroki. “Are you okay with this? You haven’t heard this answer before.”

“You can be honest, Kelsi!” Hiroki laughs.

She resumes. “You know I would say he is—intense.” Hiroki chuckles. “And he is a perfectionist—I don’t know if perfectionist is the right word, but I know in my experience with Hiroki, he really thinks things through again, and again, and again – every detail. And I think he’s passionate, and I think he’s very true to himself. And he’s very honest creatively and authentic.” Hiroki thanks her and kisses her. The two tenderly join hands.

“Because Hiroki is the creative director he has more responsibility,” she continues. “So I think sometimes it’s more serious for him. He has so many different things that, on so many different levels, that he’s thinking about. Because he’s not just thinking about, like, fabric development; he’s thinking about how is that getting used in production and everything. So many layers. I have it easy. It’s super fun and I usually feel very light about the whole thing. And I have a great time.” Kelsi locks eyes with Hiroki. “And I think he does too because otherwise he wouldn’t do it.”

Before I leave, we stand on the curb and Kelsi tells a story about Hiroki giving her a pair of FBTs shortly after they met. She had no real idea who he was or what they were, but she found them comfortable, so she wore them. “Then I walked on the subway, and I kind of felt like someone was watching me. You know that creepy feeling?” She decided to get off the train, but was followed by three men. She almost ran. But they just turned out to be Visvim superfans who wanted to ask about her shoes. “So then I thought, ‘Who is this guy?’”

When I ask her about this level of dedication from Visvim fans, she says “I think they’re really wonderful. That they understand and it makes them that excited. I think they’re really wonderful.” She mentions how much of a fan both her dad and brother have become. In fact, she says, her dad keeps asking for a pair of Hiroki’s trousers with the suspenders.

Hiroki pauses, looks down, and tugs at the waistline. He motions to his team. “I think I fixed the part—I’ve been wearing this and this is how I keep tweaking this—I don’t like this, so I’m taking some space out of here and adding here instead…” His voice drifts off.

“He’s always talking about the product,” Kelsi says, shaking her head.

And that’s how I leave Hiroki—lost in thought, sweating every detail, taking his time to find a feeling he felt once somewhere, his shadow growing on the warm pavement under the LA evening sun.

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