A Life in the World of High End Rugs and Antique Carpets
Albert Karmely A life in the world of high-end rugs For the past several decades Albert Karmely has perhaps been the most important and influential rug dealer in the world. One could say that he was born into the business. Already by 1900 his family were established antique rug dealers. During the early twentieth century, his father and older brothers were major importers of Persian rugs for the British ruling elite in India, as well exporters of Indian rugs to the western world.
The family business was also active in Iran and Europe, and they were actively involved exporting Persian rugs to other Middle Eastern regions. Karmely himself, however, was born in Eastern Iran in the city of Meshad. He initially attended High School in Tehran although he continued his secondary education in Italy and Switzerland, completing his studies in Economics at the University of Lausanne. It was this cosmopolitan background that made Karmely fluent in six languages.
Initially Karmely was involved in the family business in Milan right after the Second World War. At the end of the 1950’s, however, he returned to Iran as a carpet buyer, soon opening his own gallery in Tehran. There his European education and language skills proved an enormous competitive advantage, enabling him to meet the needs of other buyers from all over Europe.
Karmely built the first great export warehouse in Teheran, in the Bazaari district. Business expanded in leaps and bounds, until Karmely finally established a major factory in Teheran for the washing and repair of carpets, employing over three hundred fifty workers and cleaning three thousand square meters of carpets in a single day.
He developed new types of machinery for the dusting of antique rugs. He had excels relations with the highest levels of the Iranian government of the time, eventually becoming a special advisor to the Sherkat Farshe Company, Iran’s largest carpet firm. Karmely was active in the Bazaar for over twenty five years, gradually establishing an international reputation, which enabled him to open an elegant gallery in the most prestigious area of Teheran.
By this point he had become a retailer of high-end rugs as well as a major wholesaler and exporter of oriental rugs. Prominent dealers from all over the world were regularly his guests in Teheran. But his high standing and reputation now enabled him to open showrooms in Milan and Frankfurt as well.
Throughout his career, Karmely had been driven by the ambition of becoming the biggest and best rug dealer in the world and it is no exaggeration to say that he eventually realized this goal. At his peak, Karmely was indeed the most prominent figure of the international rug market, and indeed, no other single figure contributed so much to the antique rug industry.
In 1979 around the time that the Shah was deposed, Karmely was in Europe arranging to bring customers to Teheran, and it was then that the Revolution transformed both Iran and the rug industry. Most of Karmely’s family resettled in Milan. From this point on, Karmely became active primarily in Italy, Germany, and Great Britain, and he now made London the base of his operations.
But as early as 1976, he had also established a New York branch of the business, and in 1985 he made the United States and New York his permanent home. At this point he established one of the most prestigious carpet galleries of Madison Avenue, with the largest showroom in New York, and perhaps in the world. At this point Karmely’s multi-million dollar inventory constituted the largest collection of antique carpets under one roof.
Like all great high end rug dealers, Karmely is motivated not only by a desire to be successful in business, but ultimately by his love of carpets as works of art. When asked what it is that makes any carpet great, his answer is simple and decisive – color combination. The skill that goes into the weaving of a carpet is one that can be readily acquired, and most rugs are skillfully made, whatever their artistic value. Nor is design the true test of a weaver’s artistry.
Rug design is traditional, and most carpets repeat or recombine designs and patterns they have inherited. In Karmely’s view most of these inherited designs are pleasingly artistic, especially given the long process of refinement through the generations. In the end it is color, and particularly the judicious combination of colors, that a great weaver will utilize artistically to produce a great rug.
One must have access to first-rate wool made with excellent vegetal dyes, but only a weaver with a brilliant sense of color combination will transform these materials into a true work of art. It has therefore been the great passion of his life to search out a wide and impressive collection of the most artistic rugs and carpets, and to make them available to discriminating clients across the world.