F.I.L. / Free International Laboratory




When we first opened F.I.L some acquaintances asked me why we don't play music in the store.

When I was younger, on the day I bought a new album, I would always run back home to sit by my record player alone and listen to it. With nervous and anticipated excitement I'd place the record on the turntable and play it over and over again as I read through the lyrics. I'm sure I'm not the only one whose first encounter with music was like this.

At the risk of sounding overly nostalgic, I actually liked and looked forward to the nervousness that came along with playing a new record; the seriousness of the moment felt meditative and always brought on an unintended silence, tranquility, or focus.




These days purchasing albums and other products can be done efficiently through the internet. As things become more convenient I find myself experiencing the benefits of technological progression directly. It feels like this convenience and speed are changing the style and methodology of consumption.

Prior to opening, as I explored ideas for F.I.L, I thought about the essential characteristics that the store needed to have. I thought about creating a space where products would be showcased with a deliberate seriousness, an ambiance of subtle tension.

It is for this reason that we do not play music in F.I.L. None whatsoever. No sounds at all.



I do not feel as though music is unnecessary. Quite the contrary, actually. But I'd rather have a small hand in the lives of our customers and friends by offering a venue for them to face the music directly, live, on special occasions, the same way they face our product without it in silent reflection.

I'm positive that I do not fully understand the problems that the music industry is facing today. The only insight I can offer is that like other creators, musicians might potentially share some of the same concerns or worries, and benefits for that matter, that the current rapid-paced consumer cycle yields. But more importantly than that is the rare and lucky opportunity to perform for others - customers, consumers, really - who give their full attention and focus to what has been created (music and product).




F.I.L. is also designed so people can experience the product in a neutral yet comfortable space. I asked myself what kind of design elements would allow a person visiting our store to feel comforted. After careful consideration of all possibilities, I concluded that high ceilings, hon-shikkui plaster, natural light, the balance between that light and shade, antique furniture, the use of greenery or some organic component, and the scent occupying the space, were all essential elements.

I first started the brand because I noticed too many products with a lot of marketing, but very little substance. I just wanted to make something with meaning, so I had to minimize all the noise.



When I came up with the retail concept for F.I.L., or Free International Laboratory, I needed someone who could help me design the shop. I visited a lot of stores as research, and I didn't like any of them. But one day while at an art gallery, I thought, "This would be the perfect place for my product," so I tracked down the architect who designed the art gallery, Naohiko Hino, and asked him to design a store for me. He was a little confused in the beginning because he thought I was asking him to do a retail space design. After submitting his first draft, which I didn't like, I told him to "just do what you do" and make a comfortable space. I told him that the space should be like a gallery, or a temple or shrine, where customers could experience the product without any noise while still being comfortable. Natural light was critically important. So we ran with the gallery idea and used it for our first F.I.L. shop.


For our F.I.L. stores, we work with Japanese craftsmen who do hon-shikkui plastering. Hon-shikkui is traditionally used in Japanese castles. We wanted to use the hon-shikkui technique for all of our stores since the plaster must be applied by hand, so we had craftsmen from Kanazawa, who usually work on castle restorations, do the walls and surfaces of our stores.

If you visit an F.I.L. store, the white walls look almost completely flat and even, but they aren't. They are slightly irregular and actually uneven, but it's almost undetectable. This subliminal unevenness gives us such a rich feeling that cannot be recreated by a machine. It can only be achieved by hand. These white walls, which softly reflect incoming natural light and cast exquisite shadows, are a key element of F.I.L.

From a design standpoint, all our F.I.L. locations share this same underlying concept. However, the individually distinct qualities of each space have been emphasized and incorporated into the final design. As a result of this, every F.I.L. shop possesses characteristics unique to each location.




Hiroki Nakamura

This year, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of our very first F.I.L. store. Many people were involved in the conception, implementation, and management of all our F.I.L. stores, each with their own interpretation of F.I.L. 10 years later, we hear from three individuals who were instrumental in the development of the Free International Laboratory.


F.I.L. TOKYO (2004)

Hiroki Nakamura, hereafter "N" : This store is in a basement, and the challenge was how to make the underground space comfortable and organic. In Tokyo, it is difficult to find old buildings. Working with what we had (a newer building), we still wanted to imbue the space with a natural, organic feel. This involved using natural plaster and soft box lighting, similar to that of a film studio. We wanted customers to feel like they could see outside even though the store is in a basement, which is why we included a green wall covered in plants near the entrance. The open space and carefully selected product display allows customers ample breathing room to fully interact with the collection.

中村ヒロキ 以下N : このお店は地下にあるので、どうやって地下のスペースを心地良く、オーガニックに見せるかというハードルがありました。東京では古くて雰囲気のある物件はなかなか見つけることができないから、この新しいビルに、そうしたナチュラルな雰囲気を染み込ませたいと考えていました。壁に天然漆喰を使用し、フォトスタジオにあるような柔らかい光のライトボックスを設置しました。地下ですが、外にいるような開放的な心地を作り出すため、入り口の壁にはグリーンを植えました。オープンなスペースと整然と並べられたプロダクト。コレクションに触れることができる快適な場所です。

Architect, Naohiko Hino, hereafter "H" : One of the earlier stores, F.I.L. TOKYO is an open, relaxed space with very solid texture. The stoic concrete juxtaposed with antique furniture, chosen by Mr. Nakamura, defines the basic F.I.L. store concept. The way that the natural light seeps into this half-basement space is very beautiful.

建築家 日埜直彦 以下H : 比較的初期のお店で、ソリッドな質感のゆったりとしたスペースになっています。どちらかというと無機質でストイックなスペースに、中村氏が選ぶアンティークの家具が置かれるF.I.Lのショップの基本形がここで出来上がりました。半地下に射し込んでくる光が魅力的です。

F.I.L. SENDAI (2007/2011)

N : We had to remodel F.I.L. SENDAI after the original store sustained some damage during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in north-eastern Japan. The new space features beautiful wood flooring from an old church, which was old and nicely worn out, but very clean, with great patina. I've got a hunch that only slippers were used on the floor, which would explain the good condition. For the walls we used natural plaster; this material does a really great job of absorbing light and not reflecting it. The wooden, closet-like fixtures were used in a menswear store in New York in the early 1900's. They are sturdy and well-made, all with cast iron hardware. Beautiful green walls on the outside of the store act as a frame for the store inside.

N : 2011年、東日本大震災でダメージを受けたため改築する必要に迫られました。新しいスペースには、古い教会で使われていた床材を入れました。この床のパティーナが素晴らしい。とても良い状態だったので、おそらくその教会は土足厳禁だったのかもしれませんね。ここでも光の吸収に優れた漆喰を壁に使用しました。クローゼットのような木製の什器は、1900年代初期にニューヨークのメンズウェアストアで使われていたもの。鋳鉄製のパーツで、とても丈夫な作りをしています。豊かな緑が外壁を飾り、まるでお店の額縁のようです。

H : The recently expanded interior has a completely different feeling from the original space, but I still think the outside-facing frame-like window defines this stores identity. This new space is composed of strong, organic materials, and has a soft appearance with exceptional depth.

H : 最近拡張してインテリアの雰囲気はガラッと変わりましたが、それでも外に面した額縁のような窓がこの店のアイデンティティーを決めていると思います。オーガニックで強いキャラクターの素材を使って新しいスペースを作ることで、より柔らかく深みのある表情のショップとなりました。

F.I.L. general manager, Satoshi Shibata, hereafter "S" : The impression after the renovation was strong, and I felt that the basic wooden theme signaled a new direction for our brand. It's a place where you can experience a variety of time-cultivated elements.

F.I.L. ディレクター 柴田哲 以下S : リニューアル後の印象が強く、木材を基調とする内装にブランドの新たな方向性を感じました。時間をかけて培った様々な要素を体感できる場所だと思います。



N : There is a skylight and a tall, 5 meter ceiling, giving this store very nice natural lighting. I think the Kanazawa store is one of the most comfortable F.I.L. spaces. Being here, especially in the morning, is a great feeling.

The natural plaster craftsmen that we use for all of our retail spaces are from Kanazawa. They are some of the best artisans for natural plaster in Japan, and only use natural ingredients when they do their work. Kanazawa is one of my favorite cities in Japan. Back in the Edo Period, the daimyo (feudal lords) in Kanazawa, the Maeda-ke, had tremendous wealth and power, but they were fearful that the Tokugawa shogunate would view them as a threat. So, in order to quell any notion that they would attempt to overthrow him in the future, they showed fealty to Tokugawa by investing heavily in local arts and crafts as opposed to military. They were trying to send a sign that they were peaceful. Fortunately for them this worked, and they became well-liked by the Tokugawa central government. The Maeda-ke invited many great artists and artisans to Kanazawa, which is why there is such a long, storied history of high art and crafts from Kanazawa that continues today.

N : 天窓と5メートルはある天井高でとてもよい自然光が射し込みます。F.I.L.の中でも、特に心地よい店舗の一つだと思います。ここにいると、特に朝は、とても気持ちがいい。


H : The light that falls in through the window of this high-ceiling store casts dramatic shadows on anything it touches. A special store even amongst the other F.I.L. shops, this is an almost unbelievably rich space. During this project we became acquainted with shikkui plaster artisans from Kanazawa, and have been working with them on subsequent retail projects ever since.

H : 高く吹き抜けたスペースに柔らかく落ちてくる光が、あたりにあるものをみなドラマティックに見せてしまいます。ちょっとありえないぐらいリッチなスペースで、F.I.L.の一連のインテリアの中でも特別ではないでしょうか。このお店の仕事で見事な漆喰塗りを仕上げる金沢の左官職人に出会い、その後のお店でも特にお願いして仕事をしてもらっています。

S : Although this store is in the middle of a lively shopping street, it gives off a vastly different vibe from its surroundings. The in-store ivy that was sparse when F.I.L. KANAZAWA opened has now grown up admirably, and contrasts beautifully with the stone interior.

S : 賑やかな商店街の中にあり、いい意味でまわりと調和していない印象があります。オープン当初はまばらだった、店内奥のアイビーも立派に育ち、無機質な内装とのコントラストはすごく綺麗です。


N : F.I.L. HIROSHIMA is in a very unique location. It is right in front of a park with many sakura (cherry blossom) trees; spring is the best time to visit the store, as there are many people having picnics under the blooming flowers just outside the store. The store is filled with abundant natural light, and outfitted with vintage fixtures from New York.

N : F.I.L. HIROSHIMAはとてもユニークな場所にあります。たくさんの桜がある公園の真ん前なので、春、花見の人たちで公園が賑わう時期に是非訪れてみてください。豊かな自然光が入るお店。ニューヨークで見つけたビンテージ什器も置かれています。

H : While we wanted to design a space that takes advantage of the park-facing location, it wasn't simply a matter of making the space "open." Well-connected design requires some ingenuity; this idea gave birth to a variety of scenes within this modestly sized shop. By the way, the hidden theme of this shop is the golden ratio...how many examples can you find?

H : 公園に面したシチュエーションを活かすことがデザインの出発点ですが、ただ開放的にすれば良いというものでもない。うまく繋げるデザインが工夫のしどころです。大きくはないショップにいろんなシーンが詰め込まれています。ちなみにデザインの隠しテーマは黄金比なんですが、いくつ見つけられるでしょう?

S : This is personally my favorite store. You can see the park from the window, adding to the store's sense of openness. Although it's in the center of a major city like Hiroshima, the store also has the feeling of returning to one's hometown.

S : 窓から公園が見え、開放感があり、個人的には一番好きな店舗です。広島という大きな地方都市の中心部にありながら、地元に帰ってきたような感覚になれるお店だと思います。


F.I.L. KYOTO (2009)

N : This space is in a shopping area with a lot of pedestrian traffic where a drug store and cake shop line the street. When initially looking over the property information, it seemed difficult for use as a shop and nothing about the location or space particularly stood out to me. But there was one thing about this property that would not escape my mind. This property housed a Kyo-Ningyo (Kyoto Doll) shop that had been around for sixteen generations.
I decided to immediately visit Kyoto to see this property, and my anticipation did not disappoint. In fact, it was more than I could have imagined, as the space was comfortable but deliberately serious in its beauty, the perfect place for customers to view handmade Kyo-Ningyo. Although slightly different from the F.I.L. stores we had made up until then, the underlying theme of "a space that is contemplative and allows for customers to interact with the product" kept overlapping inside my head, and it was then that I decided to make this space into a store.

N : 人通りが多く、ドラッグストアやケーキ屋さんが立ち並ぶいわゆる商店街。F.I.L. KYOTOはそうした場所にあります。お店としては使いづらいだろうと、実は当初の物件情報からは、あまり惹かれる要素はありませんでした。ですがこの物件に関して、どうしても気になって頭から離れないことがありました。それは、その物件が16代続く京人形屋さんだったということ。

H : Kyo-ningyo dolls and shoes are roughly the same size. This is why if you adjust the space a little bit you can use it as a store for visvim products. It is not merely the story of carrying on this Kyoto tradition that is interesting, but that the necessity of carrying on this tradition in the first place gave birth to the stores design. From the woodwork to the clay walls, the traditional work of Kyoto artisans can be found in the most unassuming of places.

H : 京人形と靴は大きさが大体同じ。だから譲り受けたスペースの個性を少しズラしてあげれば、そのままvisvimのショップになります。京都の伝統を引き継ぐというストーリーが面白いだけでなく、そういう必然性がこのデザインを成立させているのが面白いところです。木の扱いや土壁の仕上げなど、京都の職人の伝統が目立たないところで活きています。

S : This is a store that stands quietly amongst the din of the Kawaramachi shopping area in Kyoto, I thought to myself when I first saw the inside of the renovated Kyo-ningyo space. For some reason I always get a little nervous riding the old-style elevator in the store.

S : 河原町の喧騒の中にひっそりと佇む情緒のあるお店。老舗の人形屋さんをリノベーションした店内を初めて見たとき、そう思いました。店内にある旧式のエレベーターは、なぜか乗るときいつも少し緊張します。

F.I.L. NAGOYA (2010)

N : F.I.L. NAGOYA has two floors, with the majority of the product on the second floor. There are wooden fixtures, natural plaster walls, and lots of natural light. Two windows face each other from opposite sides of the store, one window that shows a lot of greenery, and another that opens up to a balcony that faces a shrine. This shrine is actually a shrine of clothing, which I think is very appropriate.

N : 2階建てでほとんどの商品が2Fに置かれています。木製什器、天然漆喰の壁、豊かな自然光。空間を挟むように向き合う大きな窓。一方からはたくさんの木々が見え、もう一方は裏にある神社に面したテラスに続く。境内の一画にある神御衣神社は洋服にまつわる神社です。お店にぴったりの環境ですね。

H : Right behind the store there is a shrine, and we built a terrace in order to integrate this borrowed landscape into the design of the store. The yellow autumn gingko leaves paint an unbelievably beautiful scene. The interior of the shop may be similar to other F.I.L.'s, but the scenery here is undoubtedly unique to the Nagoya store.

H : すぐ裏に神社があって、その境内を借景として店内に引き込むためにテラスを作りました。イチョウの葉が黄色に染まる秋の夕方はすばらしく美しい景色です。室内のデザインは他のショップと似ているかもしれませんが、この景色が名古屋店を特別なものにしています。

We are preparing a variety of events to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of F.I.L. For those in the area, we invite you to come into our stores, interact with our products, and experience the unique comfort that each has to offer. You're sure to discover something special that wasn't mentioned above. We look forward to seeing you there.


Photography by:
Adrian Gaut
Hiroyuki Hirai