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Can Arthur Kar Build the Supreme of Cars?

L’art de l’automobile’s new collaboration with Porsche, set to be unveiled at Dover Street Market this week, is the latest sign of the growing opportunity at the intersection of fashion and automobiles.
Arthur Kar and models wear his new collaboration for Porsche, alongside the 968 L’Art model. L'Art De L'Automobile
Arthur Kar and models wear his new collaboration for Porsche, alongside the 968 L’Art model. L'Art De L'Automobile
By
  • Odunayo Ojo
BoF PROFESSIONAL

Porsche’s latest collaboration will not be unveiled at a car dealership or auto show, but at a haven for avant-garde fashion: Dover Street Market in Paris.

The famed German automobile manufacturer has linked up with Arthur Kar, a French specialty car dealer known for sourcing rare models for a well-connected clientele as well as for his love of fashion. For the tie-up, Kar deconstructed and rebuilt a Porsche 968, reimagining it as a roadster in custom green paint, with tail lights featuring Kar’s logo, a TAG Heuer stopwatch, custom Bose sound system and Ecco leather.

The “968 L’Art” car will be exhibited at Dover Street Market, where Kar will also launch a complementary apparel collection of graphic T-shirts featuring his and Porsche’s logos and green jackets inspired by Formula One uniforms from the 1990s. The collection will also be available via Kar’s own site as well as at The Broken Arm in Paris and select Porsche retailers. (The car is not for sale.)

Arthur Kar at work on the Porsche collaboration. L'Art De L'Automobile

Kar’s collaboration is the latest example of growing activity at the intersection of fashion and high-end automobiles. Somewhat like skateboarding and surfing formed the cultural foundations of a streetwear market that’s now worth billions of dollars a year, some are betting that automobiles — especially rare and vintage sports cars that can be powerful symbols of taste and status — can underpin successful new fashion ventures.

In the last two years, Palace Skateboards created an apparel collection with Mercedes-AMG; Aimé Leon Dore’s Teddy Santis created Porsche-branded collections to mark two restoration projects with the company; and Kith designed a limited-edition BMW M4, also accompanied by a branded apparel collection. Ferrari debuted its own ready-to-wear collection at its Maranello, Italy hub earlier this year and on Monday announced a multi-year design collaboration with LoveFrom, the creative collective founded by Jony Ive and Marc Newson.

Meanwhile, interest in the performance racing world is growing: the Netflix documentary show “Drive to Survive,” which follows the Formula One season and its drivers, became the number one TV series worldwide in March this year, according to streaming data tracker FlixPatrol.

“Cars are part of the hypebeast canon,” said Chris Black, partner of creative and branding agency Done to Death Projects. He said that while skateboarding and surfing are more niche communities that have grown, enthusiasm for cars is already more much widespread.

“Most men have grown up fetishising cars and the culture around them,” said Black. “Liking Porsche and buying a Porsche are two different things.”

But a fashion line (other than the branded apparel sold by carmakers themselves) has yet to tap into that aspiration, and Kar is looking to change that.

Born in Beirut, Arthur Karakoumouchian moved to France when he was nine years old and started working for his father’s garage at a young age. As a teenager, Porsche hired him as a mechanic at one of its Paris locations. In 2011, Kar went into business on his own, launching his dealership L’Art De L’Automobile, sourcing rare new and vintage cars.

He keeps his client list private but has established an A-list network of friends and creative collaborators, including Kanye West, Travis Scott and Virgil Abloh. It has earned him profiles by Highsnobiety and fashion e-commerce site Ssense. The latter described him as “Fashion’s Car Dealer.”

Kar identified a gap in the market for fashionable products to engage fans of high-end automobiles beyond traditional car merch. In 2017, he launched his streetwear-savvy collection.

“It’s possible to be a part of Porsche culture without being rich,” Kar said. “To me, it’s more about passion for the cars, not money.”

With his label, Kar has sold a range of T-shirts and accessories like sunglasses, usually priced under $300, and collaborated with the likes of Vans and Carhartt. Kar told BoF that the fashion line now generates as much revenue as his car sales.

The tie-up with Porsche could be a turning point for Kar. It‘s certainly his most prestigious collaboration yet. But he has plenty of other plans. There is a sneaker collaboration in the works and he plans to expand the categories offered by the L’art de l’automobile label beyond core merch styles.

“But I don’t want to oversaturate the market,” Kar cautioned. “I want my brand to tell a genuine story, not sell meaningless product.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misstated that Ferrari debuted a ready-to-wear collection in Paris. It did not. The collection was unveiled at the carmaker’s hub in Maranello, Italy.

Related Articles:

Inside Ferrari’s Fashion Reboot

What Fashion Resale Can Learn from Cars and Consumer Electronics

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