20 March 2023
We meet Yonathan Carmel during Paris Fashion Week during which he presents his brand Vautrait in a showromm in the Marais. At just 23 years old, shod in Tabi de Margiela cults, draped in a destroyed oversized coat, Yonathan looks like an art school student. He shakes our hands shyly, speaks very softly but as soon as he begins to talk about his brand, he becomes animated. Fashion fascinates him. Sewing in all its techniques and details, know-how obsesses him (it is he who uses this word). His label is in his image. Millimeter, ultra delicate, like made-to-measure, drawn with a brush. We tried to find out a little more about who he was, to unravel his mystery. Meeting with a young talent who has everything – very – great.
You have studied photography. Did you already know at that time that you would one day launch your fashion brand or did it come later?
Yonathan Carmel: I had no idea that I would do fashion one day, I loved photography. I went out into the street with my camera and I went to take pictures. When I look at photos I took 10 years ago, I say to myself “well, it’s funny, it could be a magazine shoot” when at no time at the moment did I do it on purpose. I didn’t even realize it.
Was it your first step into fashion without knowing it?
Yonathan Carmel: In fashion perhaps, but in art more generally for sure. That’s when I think I realized that I wanted to evolve in the artistic world but I didn’t quite know what my place was. It was really when I was in the army that I had this click for fashion.
Can you tell us about this click and the gap between what you experienced in the army and your artistic awakening?
Yonathan Carmel: 5 years ago, I was in the army in Israel (mandatory for 2 years and 8 months editor’s note) as a photographer. They sent me to take pictures in a war zone in Gaza and it literally traumatized me, I really hated it. I deeply disagreed with the way the military operates. I managed to be transferred to be a graphic designer at the army newspaper… So I had the chance to learn to master computer graphics software and since I spent a lot of time behind the computer, I put myself spending time on Pinterest. There, I discovered fashion. I spent hours looking at pictures. It was on the army computer that I discovered what fashion was, I can say that!
What stood out to you the most during these discoveries on Pinterest? What are your first fashion feelings?
Yonathan Carmel: I have so many! I think everything impressed me at that time, everything was new to me. I remember this photographer, Nick Knight (English fashion photographer, Editor’s note) I was so disturbed by his photos. I had never seen anything like it. I was like, “Wow, what is this? It’s crazy!”. One photo, in particular, stood out to me. This is an image made with Yohji Yamamoto and a girl smoking a cigarette. I remember thinking to myself, “I want to be part of this world.” I then started a “secret” patronage course. Since I worked at the army newspaper, I was allowed to go home in the evening, so I went to class between 5 and 7, even if it was forbidden. I was lucky, my parents always supported me…
Susie Smoking, Susie Bick for Yohji Yamamoto, 1988
Was it after the army that your approach to the army went from theory to practice?
Yonathan Carmel: Yes exactly. Following courses, I started working with model makers who taught me new techniques. It was then that I really learned the technique of “deconstruction” of clothing. I realized that I could do any drawing or sketch but if I wanted to make a 3D garment I had to master its internal construction to make it happen. I realized that the construction was actually the most important part, that’s where the quality of the garment comes from in my opinion. I really fell in love with the taloyring, it’s absolutely amazing. I’m really obsessed with the idea of the construction of the garment, the detail, the extreme precision that has to be done, the hand stitching, the linings, all those details that a lot of people don’t know about.
So you did not become a fashion designer, but an architect in a sense?
Yonathan Carmel: Literally yes! I never considered my job as being something in design as such but really as being a person who “builds” something. What interests me is really the idea of construction. Over all.
Who are the creators who influence your work? Where are your inspirations?
Yonathan Carmel: The designer with whom I did my internship when I lived in London during my studies was my first source of inspiration. Her name is Roni Ilan, she is Israeli and her fashion is very minimal. I am very sensitive to minimalist brands in general, like The Row but also American brands from the 90s like Donna Karan, Calvin Klein. I believe that my universe is at the crossroads of all these influences… I like neutral tones, deceptively simple universes, the deconstructed and reconstructed side with a single line.
Can you explain the name of your brand to me?
Yonathan Carmel: Vautrait is the name of one of my ancestors. Part of my family is French from Tunisia and the other part is Austrian. In Israel, many French people immigrated and changed their names to sound more Hebrew. The saddest part of the story is that I don’t speak a word of French!
Where are your inspirations?
Yonathan Carmel: I couldn’t say… She comes while I’m doing something… Usually I do things with my hands, not with my head! I don’t draw but I work with matter. I’m cutting vintage fabrics, and then I’m going to think of something. A lot of my inspirations come from people on the street. I take a lot of pictures of people in the street. It’s much more interesting for me to be inspired by “real” people in real life than by people in fashion. It’s much more authentic.
What are your favorite places when you come to Paris?
Yonathan Carmel: I really like the Clignancourt market, I like to walk there and find trinkets, objects. I like the Haut Marais and the 11th. I really like Pantin, it’s super quiet. I love small houses and there are no tourists, only grandmothers and cats!
What are the collections that you liked during the week of fashion shows?
Yonathan Carmel: I loved The Row, Givenchy, Bottega Venega and Saint Laurent!
© The Row