Arthur Kar’s surname would seem to be a little too on-the-nose for someone who makes his living as a high-end car dealer. That’s because it’s a shortened version of his full last name, Karakourmouchian, but he’s been around automobiles ever since he was too young to properly get behind the wheel. Born in Beirut, his father owned a garage, and by 14 he was washing cars. By 16, he knew the basics of auto repair.
He soon moved to Paris, where his first job was at Sonauto, a Porsche garage. He began as an apprentice and became a full-fledged mechanic. It’s an experience that nurtured a lifelong appreciation of vehicles in all makes and forms.
“I learned how to respect the car, how to respect the value of an automobile,” he says. “Not only because the car is expensive, but also because if you keep the car clean, it’s gonna stay clean forever. For me, a car doesn’t have to be the most expensive or the biggest brand name to be respectable.“
Kar decided he wanted to shift from fixing roadsters to selling them, and entered the business at just 20 years old, meeting fellow car enthusiasts and racing with friends all over Europe. Over the past 20 years, Kar’s company, L’Art de L’Automobile, established a reputation for offering new and vintage motors in excellent condition, and of a particular taste level. He put himself in the enviable position of only working with vehicles he likes and clients he has a rapport with. He currently has 16 cars in his private collection, and 40-50 housed in two underground, low-light, temperature-controlled garages in Paris, perfectly preserved in a way you’d imagine a museum archives precious art.
That’s how Kar views automobiles: drivable marvels of form and function. Also an art enthusiast, Fredrik Værslev and John Baldessari are two of his favorites. He strikes you as the type of person whose passions don’t just blend together—they fuel each other. It explains why a KAWS Dissected Companion sculpture overlooks one of his Parisian garages, next to posters of Porsches and Ferraris, stickers from streetwear labels, and a merch print from Frank Ocean’s Blond album.
Giacinto Ghia and Giorgetto Giugiaro occupy Kar’s designer pantheon as well as Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand. For him, beautiful cars are simultaneously objets d’art and symbols of pure performance. His eclectic tastes inform his clothing label, also called L’Art de L’Automobile. Launched last year, Kar feted the line’s debut with exclusive pieces for Parisian stores colette and The Broken Arm.
Not all of the pieces feature cars, but the ones that do tell the kind of story hardcore fans of streetwear and cars can both appreciate. A mid-weight mock neck white T-shirt emblazoned with the image of a Lamborghini Diablo is called the “El Chiccoro” tee. The name pays homage to an 18th-Century Spanish bullfighter who held his own against “El Diablo,” a resilient fighting bull that refused to go down after a long fight in 1869—and is the bull the Lamborghini is named after. But it’s not all about high-end sports cars. The main logo of the brand is the humble Volkswagen Golf GTI, a model originally designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro in 1974.
“The main logo of my brand is a Golf GTI for a lot of reasons. The number one reason is because I grew up in that car,” explains Kar. “Every car has a story. Every shape gets designed by a designer, as much as clothes. Some cars don’t even happen—they stay a prototype. So that’s why they are a story for me; they’re interesting in every single way.”
Kar still has an orange Golf GTI in his collection. What he loves most about the car is its no-nonsense functionality. There’s no A/C, no power windows, no airbags, and no anti-lock brake system. He calls it the “people’s car” which is also the English translation of Volkswagen’s name. It’s democratic, and simply made to get you from Point A to Point B. That’s another reason his clothing has the ability to connect with people who aren’t necessarily car enthusiasts: Whether or not you own a car now, almost everyone has driven or been driven in one.
“Even if you don’t love cars, you have a situation with a car. You had your Mom bring you to school with car. You had your Dad going with you the weekend to wash your car,” he says. “You can be reminded of these things later. That’s why I’m trying to make happen with the brand.”
Designer Ralph Lauren is another bridge between fashion and automobiles. An avid car collector himself, he showed his Fall/Winter 2017 collection at his private garage in upstate New York, juxtaposing his upcoming offerings with rows of priceless vintage cars. It didn’t surprise Kar, who views Ralph Lauren as a mentor in the way he built his brand as well as his shared passion for motors.
Kar’s latest collaboration is with Canadian e-commerce site SSENSE, and prominently features a white Ferrari 308. The graphics add a red “E” before the SSENSE logo, turning it into a visual pun. “Essence” is French for gasoline, and the “Sans Plomb 98” underneath refers to the type of fuel recommended for the vehicle. In addition to the collaborative clothing, L’Art de L’Automobile is launching the white Ferrari 308 depicted on the shirts on the site, aiming to elevate the purview of the platform. It’s a timely move, as recent studies have shown that a majority of Millennials have embraced shopping for everything—including cars—online.
He sees L’Art de L’Automobile in parallel to labels rooted in skateboarding and surfing, brands that symbolize an activity but have become an entity unto themselves. If people who don’t skate like the graphic of a certain T-shirt or hoodie, then surely people who don’t drive or own a Ferrari can appreciate one on a T-shirt. In the same way a lot of popular streetwear labels touch subcultures like skate, hip-hop, surf, and punk without pledging allegiance to one, L’Art de L’Automobile is a brand that alludes to car culture but isn’t defined by it.
“It’s all about the timeless design, you know. Some cars get old with time, and some cars can stay in the best shape forever,” he says. “We’re just doing pieces that speak to everybody as much as they speak to us—with the knowledge of automobiles.”
Speaking of awesome cars, check out McLaren’s absolutely stunning bespoke black and gold 720S, made for the Dubai International Motors Show.