I initially wanted to write a straightforward, informative intro to this article, much like I would before I tried to be all cool and post-modern. However, it just felt wrong to go back. We’re all about growth at brianlee.blog and regression is just not an option. Just to give you a look behind the curtains, here’s what it looked like before I changed my mind:
“One thing visvim as a brand has done exceedingly well over the years is in creating modern, lasting design icons. More so than most other fashion brand, visvim has in its stable a number of distinct brand identifiers such as the VIRGIL boot, 7-HOLE boot, IRIS LINER jacket, CHRISTO slides, 20L backpack, FBT sneaker-moc, and KILGORE jacket.
There are many reasons for this. Obviously, there was a lot of good design work up front in creating those silhouettes in a vintage-modified, pleasing, and wearable enough way as to suit the modern age. The names attributed to these models, christened typically but not exclusively after artists who’ve inspired visvim designer Hiroki Nakamura, are also catchy and unique.
To me, part of visvim’s success in creating icons comes from the rereleasing the same model in different makes over multiple collections. “If you build it they will come” or so the old saying goes. The same, say, work boot, made differently every season in variegated leathers, outsoles, and eyelets, has reinforces the silhouette in the consumer’s minds and, over time, became an object of desire. Because of this, it’s difficult for designers to really gauge if weak reception to a product is a matter of subpar design or wrong timing. There are many reasons why a new product doesn’t hit, and the only way to really test its design cred is to repeat it over many seasons.
Of visvim’s icons, the garments that I’ve been particularly drawn to are the ones that harmoniously integrate Japanese and ‘Western’ influences. A prototypical example that remains in the collection after all these years is the LHAMO SHIRT, a cross between a noragi and a work shirt. As such, I think the model deserves a high-school-essay-esque compare and contrast between the two I own: (1) LHAMO SHIRT CHECK FR from Fall/Winter 2012 and (2) LHAMO SHIRT CHAMBRAY from Fall/Winter 2018.”
Two intros, two reviews. How fitting.
In every iteration of the LHAMO SHIRT, present and correct are barrel cuffs, dropped shoulders, torso fastening ties, and thick open-faced plackets. These are the core elements that define the style and get repeated despite the choice of fabric or cut. Though imitators may try, this shirt-digan has really only been executed truthfully and sublimely by visvim.
Though seemingly relaxed, the LHAMO SHIRT is, in reality, a structured looking and feeling garment. The fit, boxy and athletic, comes from the dropped shoulder, extra chest fabric, and shoulder lining. This combination results in a puffed up fold of fabric in the chest and back that makes for a masuline, square-ish effect. On a smaller guy, this effect can do wonders for creating that masculine V-cut; on a bigger guy, this effect will likely make you look rounder than you actually are.
To some, the LHAMO SHIRT can feel constricting. The relatively tight arm hole and the dropped shoulder construction go against the traditional western shirting norms of providing shoulder joint mobility. Yet, I’ve found that the structure provides a sense of power, kind of like how a suit jacket’s canvassing would.
The CHECK FR is made with a French-milled cotton flannel in a gingham check, which illustrates well the ‘from the yarn up’ design philosophy visvim is so famous for. Its diagonal, alternating olive, navy and brown yarns, all laid over a navy-white checked base, is unlike any textile I’ve seen. From afar, the fabric is houndstooth-esque in its appearance and subtlely; up close, it is fascinating in its weave pattern and wonderfully textured.
The CHAMBRAY, surprise surprise, is made with a Japanese-milled selvedge cotton chambray. Other than vertical slub lines — a characteristic of the best Japanese denim — I couldn’t tell you what makes this fabric worthy of gracing a visvim garment. Regardless, the selvedge ends are thoughtfully applied throughout the garment, fully lining the placket and fastening ties with red-white goodness.
Each version’s fabric largely determines way it was constructed. The CHECK FR, with its more delicate, soft fabric, is given cleaner features. Its silky rayon shoulder lining, for instance, has its stitches blended into all the existing seams so as to not disturb its clean lines. This leads to a floating lining that can be accidentally tugged on when putting the garment on. The CHAMBRAY, a typically workwear/militaria fabric, is built for rough and tumble. Here, a cotton twill lining is completely overlock-stitched down, showing through on front and back of the garment as horizontal lines that break up the chambray expanse.
Thoughtful complements extends to the stitch work, too. The CHECK FR is treated with tonal straight stitches that blend well and disappear into the fabric. The CHAMBRAY is assembled with high tension contrast white stitches of both straight and chain-stitch varieties typical of the material used. With the latter’s high tension stitching, the shirt-digan has started to develop roping along the fastening ties and bottom hem — a cool detail that plays very well with its workwear sensibilities.
To round up the hardware differences, the clean-cut CHECK FR has opaque polyester cuff buttons with an 8 faceted finishing, whereas the macho CHAMBRAY has navy-painted aluminum ones.
The slight tweaks visvim makes to the cut of the LHAMO SHIRT with every passing year compound in the 6 years between when the CHECK FR and when the CHAMBRAY were made. The CHECK FR, made before, as rumor has it, designer Hiroki Nakamura started cutting a la Chloe Ting, fits a whole-size-and-a-half larger than the newer CHAMBRAY. The former’s larger armhole, added length and lower density fabric wears easier and more elegantly than the latter, with its built-for-work sensibilities.
Just as people change, visvim has changed. As the availability of its product has increased dramatically, particularly in ‘Western’ countries, from 2012 to 2018, the quantity of products made has also steadily increased. As such, it is easy to come to the conclusion that the demands a larger production scale bring have led to a decrease in quality, at least in their wholesale products.
Yet, in a product like the LHAMO SHIRT CHAMBRAY that should be affected by such changes, it is not the case. The CHECK FR, in my view a high point of visvim’s collections over the years, is no more well thought out than the CHAMBRAY. The difference in quality is marginal, and any other difference is merely a matter of design intent than a watering down of product.
You can still get the CHAMBRAY version at some places, but the CHECK FR is long sold out. I’d recommend checking out Grailed or Yahoo Auctions Japan to save on some money if you don’t mind getting one used. The brand also puts out new versions every season, which you can purchase on their website.