LIVE PIANO BY COEUR DE PIRATE - VIDEO EDITING EMMANUEL MAURIÈS RINFRET
photos by Donald Gjoka
Will men and women ever happily share the same clothes? Unisex fashion lines take androgynous chic to the next level, but it may be a step too far for many.
With models lining up in black outfits, an opulent setting and silver masks to match the mouldings on the walls, Rad Hourani's show last week fitted right into the couture schedule. But look again, and there's one key difference: Hourani's collection was designed to be unisex. Those masks were there for a reason – to remove any gender differences in models' faces.
This was the first unisex collection to be shown in couture, which is significant not only because couture is a growth area in fashion, but also one of the stuffiest all fashion weeks. Furthermore, Hourani is part of the establishment. Sidney Toledo, president of Christian Dior, has been mentoring him, and he was invited on to the couture schedule by the president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, Didier Grumbach.
Unisex style is hot at the moment. Richard Nicoll launched S/He for spring, a unisex line that he created in partnership with artist Linder Sterling, and JW Anderson regularly blurs the boundaries between genders, telling the Guardian this month that looking at clothes in terms of these divides is "really stale". We have also seen a shift in trends: with pieces such as bomber jackets, sweatshirts and trainers key items in both men's and womenswear.
Hourani, who is originally from Canada, is at the forefront of this trend. He launched his unisex ready-to-wear line RAD by Rad Hourani in Paris in 2007. In a bid to create clothes that "exude the essence of timeless style", his designs are deliberately genderless. Rather than the "men-in-skirts" approach, he concentrates on clothes – T-shirts, jackets, shoes – that seamlessly move between men's and women's wardrobes. It looks strikingly sci-fi even when you remove the models' masks.
Whether unisex design is actually the future of fashion, though, is up for a debate. There will always be customers, particularly in womenswear, who like an androgynous look but, in equal measure, there are those wholove ultra-feminine clothes (see Versace). Rather, unisex is the logical conclusion of the "boyfriend fit" trend, even if a mainstream acceptance of men borrowing their partner's clothes –"girlfriend fit", anyone? - is probably a long way off.
by for The Guardian UK
“…Do not cross legs, do not cross arms, do not pose. Do not stop. Be pure. Be Unisex. Be Couture.” Rad Hourani's artful poetry decorated his Haute Couture invitation and underlined his blended vision of his unisex namesake label. Born in Jordan and raised in Montreal, Canada, he was the first designer to be invited by The Chambre Syndicale de La Haute Couture in Paris to exhibit his unisex Haute Couture collection. He also designs a unisex ready-to-wear line, Rad by Rad Hourani and continues to break barriers with his innovative take on gender unification in fashion. #EXTRAORDINAIRE spoke with the designer backstage during Paris Fashion Week to find out: what is extraordinaire?
Would you classify your design palette as androgynous? And how do you distinguish androgynous from unisex?
I do not define my look as androgynous. Androgyny is a style that is being either feminine or masculine. My style, on the other hand, is more unisex. Unisex style is genderless and timeless. The collection unites the sexes by abolishing borders. My designs are not limited to gender, age, religion or season. Creating garments that are suitable for both genders is the backbone of my collection. I also like to work on transformable pieces, which are items that can transform into a skirt, a corset, a dress, etc. This provides the two sexes with endless possibilities to display their own personal style.
What motivated you to design unisex couture ?
It is important to be inquisitive. At the beginning of my career I asked myself who decided why men should be dressed differently than women? Why exactly do these trends exist? For instance, at the time of Louis XIV men were wearing heels and women were wearing corsets… and then things changed. I soon realized that in a way we as a society have invented these codes. My role as a designer is to erase these codes and start something new.
How would you describe your creative process?
The creative process is always linked to the unisex. It took me a year to understand a man’s body and a woman’s body and then I created one canvas to fit both. I sketch each season on the same canvas. This collection is constructed alike for both men and women, except with a variation of separate looks. I design graphic lines and architectural shapes. These shapes can be a garment, a building, a car, or even an object. When I design, I think of myself and how I like to dress. I think that the way we dress is a form of expression and it is something that reflects our personality and the way we are. My clothes reflect my way of being and my way of thinking that is free from any restrictions. I like to add another dimension of sophistication to my work and to be challenged.
You debuted your first collection at age twenty-five, what advice do you have for young aspiring designers?
I tell them to have a vision. It is very important to respect your vision and do not compromise. Do not create a brand just to create a brand. Do not look at fashion to create fashion, do something else, or something new. Quality comes first. I never look at collections or even fashion photography to get inspired. If you seek inspiration in other people’s art, you are simply just recycling and not inventing. Think of a complete vision from A to Z and also be ready to work extremely hard to succeed. I would never be where I am today if I did not work twenty-four hours straight, day and night. The design world is not easy.
What is #EXTRAORDINAIRE for Rad Hourani?
Feeling good is extraordinaire.
Interview: Chloe Rash
Illustration: Alexandria Coe
One-on-one with the first unisex couturier
Photography Alexandra Utzmann
Words Ray Siegel
For all of the lip service that designer’s pay the notion of timeless fashion, designer Rad Hourani is a true devotee to the cause. Taking that ideology several steps further, he prides himself in design that is timeless, seasonless, ageless, genderless and was built using the first-ever unisex pattern—and his own “set of rules.” According to Hourani, it all begins with one graphic shape that could evolve into anything—a building, a piece of furniture, a sculpture—but eventually morphs into his collection, one that stands out amidst the typical ruffles and embellishments that are quintessentially couture.
In 2005, Hourani arrived in Paris to work as a stylist and two years later, launched his namesake ready-to-wear collection. Only six years later, he became the first unisex couturier in history to be invited by the Fédération Française de la Haute Couture.
“I did my first collection for my personal wardrobe and had no idea that it would go this far,” Hourani explains. “I believe that using what I would like to wear as a starting point for the design process is the most truthful and straightforward approach. It allows me to stay focused on my aesthetic and assess my commitment to wearability, functionality, and comfort. I have always been interested in creating something that looks minimal, but is complex to make. For me, that is the most challenging part of my work. I also admire the craftsmanship of making something extremely luxurious without it being showy. Attending to complexity and simplicity at the same time is a very long process. It’s all about “savoir faire” which is working with the best of the best in every aspect: fabrics, tailoring, cutting, fitting, and proportions.”
His style is based on symmetry and rectangular shapes that help him realize his unisex concept. He blames it on an subconscious attraction to architecture, but his main focus always comes backs to the timeless nature of his designs. “I want to free my collection from all trends or seasons or references from the past. Given the nature of the fashion calendar, I have to present my collections on a bi-yearly basis, but I design them with the idea that they could be worn by anyone, at any time. Therefore, I do not start every new season with a specific concept, but rather try to establish continuity from one to the next. My pieces are timeless and freed from any strict differentiations. My methodology revolves around the notion of the present existing without a past.”
As for what is different about the collection that went down the runway today: “Extreme femininity and masculinity. I wanted to give both of these sides a place in this collection. I hope to reach people who do not define themselves in strict terms.”
PHOTO BY Saskia Lawaks
Boundless. adjective \ˈbau̇n(d)-ləs\ : not limited in any way : having no boundaries
When it comes to the retail industry the word “boundless” doesn’t really come to mind. Creating for the timeless, ageless and without confines of sexuality isn’t typically displayed in the window fronts along 5th avenue or on the pages of the most frequented fashion magazines. However it is exactly how one could describe the designs of unisex Haute Couture designer Rad Hourani.
The reality is that the global apparel market was valued at US$1.7 trillion in 2012 and the fashion industry is an industry where models are getting paid an average of $1,500 each per show to walk down a runway during any of the major Fashion Weeks. No wonder it’s hard to break free of the mold. The industry undeniably continues to propel, whether knowingly or unknowingly, the fashion stereotypes of age and gender. Paving your own way is a sink or swim risk and Jordanian-born, Montreal native Rad Hourani seems to have jumped into the deep end and has come up floating with the grace of a synchronized swimmer. As he would put it, “Fashion is about trends, sales, about changing every season to incite people to buy, to sell. I’m not interested in that.” The simple notions of industry sales, standards and stereotypes do not apply to this calm demeanour artist, “My clothes can be mixed from my first collection to my last collection very well and you can feel a continuity, you can feel a style, you can feel an identity in it.” Designs, in his view, are not to be sold as “this seasons” must have pieces but furthermore as an extension of each person’s individuality.
In a world where demand and supply has taken precedent, it was great to sit down with a designer who strives to break down the preconceived notions of fashion. Fearless to design in the grey, Rad Hourani has garnered a new style that truly allows for individuals to stand at the forefront of his fashion.
Does creating a unisex and timeless aesthetic allow for freedom or does it add an element of constraint?
It’s definitely about freedom. It’s a way of being free of any limitations. Unisex does not just define the elimination of gender; it’s also age, race, religion, any boundary that can divide people. The word “unisex” is the base element I took to start my language because I had to create a canvas to fit a man and a woman’s body. I think clothes are some of the first things you express yourself with. When I say unisex, I don’t only mean that you have to be androgynous or gothic; you can be whatever you want to be in a garment that you can adapt to any style you would like to adopt. My designs are to feel ageless, timeless. My clothes have no limits.
You’re a photographer, an artist, a designer, a writer all in one. How do you think wearing so many hats fuels your creative process?
I think you cannot express yourself only with clothes. I’ve never been interested in fashion, I’ve never been interested in being a designer or being called a designer. If you see someone, you might judge them by the way they look, but once you know them you hear them talk, you see them move, you see them doing things. I think you cannot express yourself just by the way you are dressed. For me, it’s the same thing. I make a language or a vision and it’s not just about clothes; it’s about a way of being, a way of existing and a way of thinking in the world. I cannot express it just by a garment or a certain picture. Sometimes you need to see someone talking or moving to see what they are about. The same thing for art, the same thing for music. I think all your senses need to be stimulated to really understand something. It’s a canvas that is free from any reference from the past but the shapes are connected to each other.
You use words like “protection”, “weightless armour” to describe your designs. What does that say about the role you see fashion playing in people’s lives?
I think clothes can transform the way you feel. It’s like at the theater; you wear a gown and you feel like a princess. You wear fishnets and you feel like a whore. Clothes can transform the way you feel, the way you react in society. It just gives you a structure. So I think clothes play a big part of people’s lives.
My question is: who decided a man must dress in a certain way and a woman must dress in a certain way? Who decided a woman should wear heels and a printed flower dress, wear makeup? And men not? I’m not against these things, but where do they come from? I’m interested in it. I’m trying to create something that can adapt itself to any style, full makeup, no makeup, big hair, short hair. It’s important to give people a certain questioning and understanding of how we work and how we are and why. People don’t generally ask themselves why we are how we are. Where do these “it’s okay” and “it’s not” judgments come from? I’m not putting men in heels to provoke, but to try to question why it’s not okay. Maybe a woman wants to feel more masculine. Why do heels suggest femininity?
You describe your designs as a complete lifestyle. What defines your lifestyle?
My lifestyle… I think I’m a minimalistic person. I like quality over quantity. I like to be with people that can inspire me in terms of the way they think and the way they are. It’s not limitative or anything in the world. Anywhere in the world I feel like home. I don’t have a limitation of nation, of border. I question myself about everything, even about food and where it comes from. I like to know things about life, where do the things that enter my life come from. I’m not trying to be intellectual, just curious. It’s a lifestyle that can give you the feeling of doing something with your life that can be logical, valuable and contribute to the world in a good way. I just do what feels right to me; some people react to it, some people don’t. I’m happy to see how many people are reacting to it and wearing my clothes in the street and understanding what these clothes are about.
What along the way is one of the most memorable moments you’ve experienced?
When the president of La Fédération Française de la Haute Couture called me to announce that I became an official invited member of the Haute Couture and to become the first unisex designer in custome history. I was in New York, I was going to FIT to do a speech. That was one of the most memorable moments, but I like to erase everything and start again. I think my most memorable moments will be the things to come. Of course you don’t forget the things that made you who you are today, but I think it’s good to be excited about the future.
Interview by Lindsay Woods - Photos by Rupert Lamontagne
CLOTHING RAD HOURANI UNISEX HAUTE COUTURE - COLLECTION #11
PHOTOGRAPHY WIKKIE HERMKENS - STYLING SONNY GROO - HAIR TOM BERRY - MAKE UP THOM WALKER - MODEL PASCAL BONVIE at REPUBLIC MODELS - INTERVIEW SAVI KURUPPU
SAVI KURUPPU Recently you were invited to Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and you made history as the first unisex designer to present a collection. How does that feel?
RAD HOURANI I must say that I think a great deal about myself when designing. Of course, I didn’t create a brand just for my own sake, but I believe that using what I would like to wear as a starting point for the design process is the most truthful and straightforward approach. It allows me to stay focused on my aesthetic and assess my commitment to wearability, functionality and comfort.
I have always been interested in creating something that looks minimal but is complex to make. For me, that is the most challenging part of my work. I also admire the craftsmanship of making something extremely luxurious without it being showy. Attending to complexity and simplicity at the same time is a very long process. It’s all about “savoir faire” which is working with the best of the best in every aspect: fabrics, tailoring, cutting, fitting, proportions, etc. I did my first collection for my personal wardrobe and I had no idea that it would go this far. I like taking risks to make a difference in what we do in life. I like to create my own rules and not follow rules just to be part of an industry or a category. I do what makes sense to me and it always works out very well. Today, I am very proud and honored to be an invited member of haute couture and to be the first unisex designer in history. I never thought that the past five years of doing what I love would bring me to this point.
RAD HOURANI Distils His UNISEX with Choreographer Édouard Lock at PHI
Ballet dancer Zofia Tujaka transforms from ingénue to hard-edged vamp in Unisex, a neo-noir short directed by Rad Hourani. Shot in Montreal’s Phi Centre, the atmospheric performance sees Tujaka gesticulate to a haunting score by New York composer Nico Muhly. “Before I started designing my collections I bought a video and a photo camera,” explains the Jordan-born designer, who has cultivated a following with his all-black, cerebral collections from his Paris studio. “For me, movement is as important as design; as much as literature, as much as food.” Enlisting David Bowie and Frank Zappa collaborator Édouard Lock for the original choreography, the piece comes as part of Hourani’s multi-channel exhibition, Seamless, featuring five-years of graphic design work, photography and bespoke looks from his unisex haute couture collection. “For me, Édouard’s work represents the masculine and the feminine, the fast and the slow, the hard and the soft—all the contradictions.”
ARTICLE PAR EMMANUELLE VIEIRA / PHOTOS PAR Vittorio Vieira
Ce mois-ci, il est l’artiste et le commissaire invité du Centre Phi avec son exposition Rad Hourani sous toutes ses coutures, 5 ans de créations unisexes. À l’initiative de la fondatrice et commissaire permanente Phoebe Greenberg, le créateur a accepté de se dévoiler sous ses angles de grand couturier, de photographe, de réalisateur, d’architecte des corps en mouvement et de l’âme humaine. Virtuose du visuel, le premier designer canadien à être entré dans le cercle fermé de la haute couture parisienne aurait pu exposer à Paris, à Londres ou à New York : Rad Hourani a choisi Montréal pour faire le bilan de cinq années d’exploration.
Rad Hourani est un être à part. Il fait penser au Petit Prince de Saint-Exupéry. Avec son monde à lui, son regard frais sur les choses et sa beauté intérieure qui transperce tout ce qu’elle touche, il est attachant et redoutablement intelligent. L’exposition au Centre Phi, c’est son bébé : il a mis neuf mois à la peaufiner. Le résultat est à l’image de tout ce qu’il crée : en équilibre entre le noir et le blanc, tout en nuances, riche en subtilités et en non-dits.
Il aurait pu rester centré sur lui-même, comme le font beaucoup de créateurs, mais il a opté pour l’ouverture, invitant architecte, peintre, designer, chorégraphe et musiciens à se joindre à lui pour chanter en choeur cette symphonie de l’unisexe : un monde libre dans lequel les opposés s’attirent et se complètent plutôt que de se repousser. « Je n’aurais pas pu m’exprimer aussi bien ailleurs, souligne Rad Hourani, le Centre Phi est le seul endroit qui permettait d’utiliser autant de supports et de voix à la fois. »
Phoebe Greenberg a d’abord entendu parler de Rad Hourani par son fils, un admirateur inconditionnel du couturier, mais c’est l’artiste Renata Morales qui les a présentés. « J’ai tout de suite trouvé la démarche artistique de Rad très intéressante, explique Mme Greenberg. Il possède une grande culture en arts visuels et une compréhension très pointue de l’esthétique en trois dimensions. Il réfléchit beaucoup à la manière de porter un vêtement, au mouvement, à la façon dont le corps voyage dans l’espace. C’est un grand couturier, mais c’est aussi un grand photographe et un remarquable réalisateur. »
Ce « voyage du corps » se transpose dans l’exposition sous forme d’immenses murs en papier peint sur lesquels défilent des anatomies de tous âges et de toutes origines, de manière rythmée et graphique. « Avant de dessiner un vêtement, dit Rad, j’ai passé un an à étudier le corps humain, des corps de toutes les tailles et de toutes les formes. »
À cette murale succède celle des patrons aux formes architecturales. « Une fois le corps humain disséqué visuellement, j’étais prêt à fabriquer mes propres patrons unisexes. J’ai toujours vou lu faire des vêtements pour l’humain, en dehors de tout effet de mode, d’âge ou de sexe. »
Mais derrière cette absence de genre ou de race se cache une volonté beaucoup plus grande : celle d’exister loin des codes et des barrières qu’on nous impose. Et l’exposition rend admirablement cet aspect. En déconstruisant anatomies et silhouettes, on finit par se concentrer sur l’essentiel : le mouvement, l’énergie, un frisson, la beauté, la vie.
Aux côtés des murales des corps et des patrons unisexes, des murs des portraits et des collections, se trouve un mur de six vidéos qui sont l’aboutissement en trois dimensions de toute cette analyse et dissection en deux dimensions. Dans la grande salle de projection, un montage de poèmes visuels réalisé par Rad Hourani finit d’éveiller tous nos sens et réussit à nous placer dans un état d’apesanteur, une forme d’apothéose du questionnement par rapport à notre corps et à ce que nous sommes réellement.
La vie, une création
Pour Hourani, la vie est une création, mais aussi un partage continu, une communion entre disciplines et créateurs. Au rez-de-chaussée du Centre Phi, il a ouvert une boutique éphémère dans laquelle il a placé les livres de sa bibliothèque personnelle, des oeuvres exclusives réalisées en collaboration avec d’autres artistes, un choix de vêtements issus de toutes ses collections de prêt-à-porter, une réédition du parfum Ascent et son tout nouveau livre Rad Hourani 5 Years of Unisex, tiré à seulement à 300 exemplaires.
« Exposer et vendre des livres qui m’appartiennent depuis l’âge de 18 ans, c’était important pour moi », dit-il. Parmi ces ouvrages phares, on trouve un très beau bouquin sur Coco Chanel qui trône aux côtés d’un ouvrage sur Pierre Cardin : « Chanel, c’est l’érotisme élégant, le noir et blanc, l’audace d’une créatrice qui a su amener l’idée d’un pantalon pour femmes. Cardin, c’est aussi l’avant-garde ; il a apporté quelque chose qui n’existait pas, une mode plastifiée, accessible. »
Il y a aussi plusieurs livres du photographe américain Robert Mapplethorpe, l’un des artistes fétiches de Hourani, et des ouvrages consacrés à l’oeuvre d’Helmut Newton. Puis, pêle-mêle sur les comptoirs, il y a des livres sur la typographie Helvetica, sur l’étu de des visages, sur l’architecture moderne, sur le cinéma érotique, sur Warhol et sur Almodóvar. Parcourir les pages de ces magnifiques documents grand format nous fait pénétrer dans un monde où l’esthétisme côtoie le mystère, où la beauté a parfois des allures très cruelles et où le décalage est permanent, bien loin de la vie édulcorée à laquelle on nous a habitués.
Dans l’oeil de l’autre
Face à cette bibliothèque très personnelle ouverte au public, Rad Hourani a demandé à des amis créateurs de concevoir une ou plusieurs oeuvres uniques pour l’événement. Une photographie noir et blanc d’un escalier et deux sculptures tranchées en noir et blanc de l’architecte Gilles Saucier interrogent la matière noire et son potentiel de contenir l’espace.
Comme dans les oeuvres de Hourani, le noir n’est pas le négatif du blanc, mais le complément de celui-ci. Il est la représentation d’une création en devenir, un espace imaginaire dans lequel bouillonnent vie et mouvement.
D’autres créations enrichissent cet espace de communion artistique. Il y a d’abord les aquarelles-imprimés de Renata Morales, pleines de spontanéité, de joie et de noirceur. Puis la série Mask-à-Rad conçue par la peintre Leela Sum, dont les mystérieuses silhouettes en noir et blanc se font l’écho d’un art primitif ou de dessins africains très anciens.
Sur le mur, une magnifique chorégraphie d’Édouard Lock filmée par Rad Hourani met en scène une danseuse vêtue d’un corset qui se transforme peu à peu en veste, rendant l’apparence féminine plutôt masculine. Pour Lock comme pour Hourani, danse et visuel ont un impact sur le public qui n’est pas aussi rationnel et défini que celui du mot.
Intéressés par le mystère inhérent à la danse ou aux images, les deux artistes aiment disloquer la perception que nous avons de notre propre corps en nous offrant une approche plus viscérale et beaucoup moins contrôlée par l’intellect.
À côté de la boutique éphémère se trouve un autre espace d’échange dans lequel Rad Hourani expose sa fameuse veste interactive, qu’il avait déjà présentée à la Tate Modern de Londres. Avec des caméras intégrées au vêtement, la veste capte les visages des visiteurs qui sont ensuite projetés sur différents écrans du Centre Phi.
Penser en images
Cette exposition est l’occasion rêvée d’apprendre à penser en images plutôt qu’en mots, à déconstruire notre univers pour en rebâtir un plus libre et plus ouvert.
Débarrassé de toutes les étiquettes qui collent à la peau, Rad Hourani nous montre comment déchiffrer les zones d’ombre qui sont presque plus importantes que les choses elles-mêmes. Ici, l’âme humaine et ses secrets s’expriment pleinement dans les craquelures d’un monde étrange et Rad-icalement beau.