Vans x L’Art De L’Automobile: the mechanics of a successful collaboration

iD meets Arthur Kar, founder of L’Art de L’Automobile, to discuss storytelling, the art of creating a lifestyle brand, why driving will never go out of style, and for a first look at his second collaboration with Vans.

Claire Thomson-Jonville: This is your second collaboration with Vans, can you come back to what Vans represents for you as a lifestyle brand? Obviously, growing up with the skate culture and your close collaborators in the garage being skaters… What does it mean for you to do this collaboration?
Arthur Kar: Personally, I don’t really wear Vans because of skateboarding, I’ve been wearing Vans for a long time because they’re easy to wear and they always look timeless. The new collaboration that we are going to file is the Old school which is the model that we also wear a lot. It’s very simple and at the same time elegant, so we wanted to play with aspects of the car in the design.

CTJ: The design of the shoe is inspired by drag racing. Can you tell us a bit about this culture? Is this the starting point for the design and how did you determine the design approach?
AK: The starting point of the design is the exhaust system and the flames that come up the sides. On every sports car you have an exhaust system that can also spit fire, it depends on the power of the engine, so that’s what we wanted to translate into the shoe. That kind of feeling you had when you were a kid and you bought a pair of sneakers at the store and in your mind you think you run faster with the shoes on but in fact you don’t run faster than anyone else. It’s just in your mind. I wanted to do the same thing with these shoes: that the children who wear them feel like they can move faster. I also wanted to create a narrative that made the most sense to me: I love drag racing, I grew up going to drag races with my dad. I don’t think it’s an interesting race per se as they only run in a straight line. In fact, the most beautiful part of the race for me is the start, the way the car starts. Usually it spits out big flames and the tire bends into a shape that you don’t see on any other type of tire. I also like the shape of the dragsters because they look really weird, they are very unexpected cars. Like very thin, or very fat, or very fat, and they are very, very fast. It is the biggest engine in the game. Some of them even have helicopters or jet engines. So I thought to myself, I’m going to bring this with my Vans collaboration. Today on instagram you see a lot of people posting their car exhaust systems and I think it’s kinda cheesy and it’s pretty cheap especially in the sports car brands where the people love to post. As you know, our brand is more about real storytelling and things make sense. We make the hoodie and the pants in three different colors. A crew neck sweater and two t-shirts, a cap and socks that go with the whole collection if you want to wear your Vans in one total look outfit.

CTJ: Just like a white t-shirt or the perfect blue jeans, sneakers are obviously classics. When you’re working on a shoe, specifically a Vans shoe, and thinking about what ingredients you want to incorporate to create an “iconic shoe”, would you say you’re more visionary, like do you have an idea already in your mind before you start what you want it to look like, or is it a step by step process?
AK: We always have an idea. All the shoes we make that are going to come out in the next five years, we already have the idea for them all. Because they are all related to a story that we had in the history of our brand or my relationship with shoes and clothing.

Vans X Kar campaign

CTJ: With Art, you obviously worked on multiple collaborations. I’m just curious how do you determine if the time is right for a particular brand at any given time, is it an organic process where you look for it? Obviously you have a lot of people who want to collaborate with you, can you explain a bit about your approach to collaboration?
AK: We have a lot of people who want to collaborate, there are a lot of brands that we like and work with, but a lot of brands that we don’t like, not because we don’t want to, but because it does not work. meaning to us. We only work with brands that make sense. Porsche we did, because I have a long history with them, Carhartt has a long history with Adrien from the team, we have a lot of offers and some are ongoing collaborations, but we’re not going do a lot too. All must have a story and all unfold with logic because it is part of our lives, it is part of our daily life.

CTJ: Could you describe the creative process with Vans and how it differs from other partnerships, what is the process with them? Are they super free, do they let you do what you want?
AK: We told them the shoes we wanted to make, they gave us the shoe model and they let our creativity run wild.

Vans X Kar campaign

CTJ: And it’s quite usual?
AK: Depends on who, but sort of, yeah.

CTJ: When you design a shoe, or anything for that matter, do you have someone specific in mind? Are you designing for yourself or is it more of a mood in general?
AK: We design for ourselves. We treat our brand the same way we treat our cars. We drive our cars because this car means something to us, we want everything to have meaning. That is authentic for us. For example, I’m working on a new form of sweatshirt and I’ve been wearing it myself for three days and when I’m ready I’ll make the changes that will make me feel most comfortable and then I’ll leave to fall. Instead of some people buying already existing clothing shapes and printing their own style or their own logo and modifying it in their own way, we build our own shapes with our own model, we try things and if we feel enough comfortable, then we move on. We treat this the same way we would treat a work of art. We don’t think of ourselves as artists, we aren’t, but if we have to paint a piece of art on a wall, that’s what we’ll have in mind. Not what people want to see.

Vans X Kar Campaign

CTJ: How would you describe your personal style? You Arthur?
AK: It depends on my mood and the city I’m in. In general, it’s a bit the same thing. I like to wear the same brand from bottom to top.

CTJ: Do you like full looks?
AK: Full looks, yeah.

Vans X Kar Campaign

CTJ: And what car do you drive? Has this already been taken into account?
AK: No! No, I don’t match my car with my clothes. It’s not for me.

CTJ: When we’ve talked in the past, we’ve talked about taking inspiration from the lifestyle culture. What lessons have you learned from the iconic brands that have influenced you in the past? And how do you apply these lessons to your own lifestyle philosophy today?
AK: I mean all these brands, and all these people that we talk about, people from Carhartt because I know their studio and I know the people who do them well in Jordan – all these brands and all these people that we look up to, they all have one thing in common, which is that they are all perfectionists. They all do something because it means something to them and they want to do it in the best way possible. That’s what I’ve learned over time, from brands I’ve worked with like Porsche, to car manufacturers, from real fashion brands that I consider real brands, and real designers, that’s what I learned from them. Having that personality naturally but having that personality without being ashamed of your own product. Once again I like Rick Rubin’s post “are you making art for yourself or are you making art for commerce?”. So it’s the same. Some people have no personality and just give up on products that I totally respect. Even I sometimes buy some of these products. But there are people who do things from a really sincere place. What I love about it is that a lot of people won’t get it and a lot of people on the other side will be into it. It’s two different approaches. So that’s what I learned, is to be myself as much as possible. This is why the more the days pass, the more I am myself.

Vans X Kar campaign

CTJ: In Paris, in particular, the culture you’ve created around cars which is generally quite elite and exclusive – especially with the types of cars you’re talking about. What is your philosophy around Art, and how to create the lifestyle that surrounds it? Can you talk about culture in France, more specifically?
AK: People think there’s no one who likes cars here in France but there are actually a lot of people who like cars. Not as much as in the UK, Germany or LA, but we have a lot of enthusiasts. I take it as a passion above all, and I naturally do what I love. In Paris or elsewhere. Because I use these cars as I want to use them according to my vision. If the world doesn’t want petrol cars and they want electric cars, that’s OK! But that’s not gonna change my love of driving a car – for me driving to get your bread, get your smoothie, go to dinner with your girlfriend, whatever car you have, it’s the same feeling because you’re spending time in a car; It’s better than being in an Uber, or having a driver who takes you everywhere. You know you’re not with your own music, you’re not living anything. It is not about the shape of the car or the brand of the car. It’s more about the moment we live in ours. And that’s why it’s more important to me and that’s why I don’t think cars are going to go away. It is not possible. Not in ten years, not in two hundred years. I think the cars will always be there especially over time. The other day they were showing cars that were going to fly and stuff – I think that’s great. But four-wheeled cars on the road will never go away. They will be more and more exclusive and more and more interesting because it is something between freedom, between history, between feelings that you can only have at that moment. So that’s why I live and do naturally in my own way.

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Vans X Kar campaign


Images courtesy of Vans

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