When Rad Hourani tells me his favorite author is Ayn Rand, I wince. The last mouth I’d heard that come from was 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s.
“What’s unique about what’s happening today in government, in the world, in America, is that it’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel,” Paul Ryan said some years ago, before he backpedaled on his Rand idolatry when her atheism seemed to affront his Evangelical voter base. Ayn Rand, to me, means capitalism as morality, selfishness as virtue, fiscal conservatism, and all that that’s recently come to be parcelled with, i.e. the Republican pain in my uterus. Of course, I’ve never read Rand.
And that’s precisely the point. Rad Hourani aims for first principles. He aims to strip away the chaos of received knowledge, of prejudice, to create from a clean slate. In that way, he is like Howard Roark, the protagonist of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, her first major novel, the least political, and (in his defense) the only one that Rad has read. “My work, done my way,” is Howard Roark’s motto. He is an individualistic architect with a progressive vision of design who would rather strive in obscurity than compromise his principles.
“The book is about people being individuals. And it’s about making your life, making what you are and what you do…” Rad pauses to rephrase, “Don’t do it for the existence of others. Don’t live in the eyes of others. If we were to all live in our own eyes, that would create a much more advanced society, in terms of food, architecture, medicine, all human endeavor. You know what I mean?” Rad waits for me to respond. My anti-Rand prejudice runs too fierce, but I am convinced of the purity of Rad’s interpretation. I want to tell him that I want to know everything he means. Instead it’s, “Let’s go back to your upbringing.”
Rad Hourani was born in Jordan in 1982 to a Jordanian-Canadian father and a Syrian mother. His father had grown up in Canada and, when Rad’s older brother, the eldest, finished high school, his father wanted him to move to Canada to study at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. The family would follow—mother, father, Rad, and his five siblings (the one elder brother, one younger brother, and three younger sisters) all moved to Montreal. Rad was sixteen at the time.
Shortly after graduating high school in Montreal, Rad started scouting for a modelling agency. From there—from within the small Montreal fashion community and based off of Rad’s intuitive refinement and personal taste, which he exudes necessarily, like the rest of us breathe—he started to receive styling requests. He shifted to full-time styling and soon, at twenty-two, which brings us to 2005, was drawn to Paris to continue the pursuit. In Paris, Rad found himself shopping exhaustively without ever finding the clothes he was looking for. “Sometimes, the fit would be too tight or too short. Or the neck was too low or too high or the fabric was not right for the cut.” He knew precisely what he wanted. And so he started sketching.
“Everything happened really organically. I never sought a client for a styling job. With design, I never called a magazine or a buyer to come and see my clothes. Everything just happened,” he tells me. What’s everything? The wardrobe he started sketching turned into a collection, which lead to the launch of his namesake label in 2007. “After I launched that collection in Paris, it was like a tornado hit… All these different things came.” Like, the launch of a second, ready-to-wear line, RAD by Rad Hourani; the opening of a gallery in Paris; photography, art direction, filmmaking, travel; a scent called Ascent; and, most recently, an invitation into the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and his first Couture collection, the first unisex Couture show in history, which debuted yesterday in Paris to great acclaim. Rad Hourani clothes are currently sold in 130 stores across 30 countries. He has a dedicated legion of Houranians, rad customers who “get” his (initiate the press standard adjectives) minimalist, austere, monotonal, architectural, asexual luxury creations.
That was the necessary diachronic biography; names and numbers that amount to something of the man. But Rad Hourani’s vision, his ethic and effect, is more synchronic. The clothes he makes are asexual and aseasonal. They aim at what he consistently refers to as “timelessness.” This timelessness is a philosophical trial, an attempt at some sort of essentialism or humanism in presentation. He makes garments devoid of informational connotation, like gender or age-appropriateness or socio-political coding, but full of aesthetic communiqué. Rad Hourani clothes say, “I have a sense of beauty, symmetry, and poise, but if you care to know anymore, you’ll have to actually engage with me, the wearer.” His is a uniform designed—and this is important—to facilitate the individuality of the wearer. Made for whomever, for whenever, wherever, and however they choose be.
The vision is utopic. Rad’s clothes have that Starfleet vibe. Pristinity. Utility. “They come from no place, no time, no tradition, yet they could be home anywhere, anytime.” Made for him, her, zhe, whatever—gender is an illusion. Everything he makes is unisex.
“I never wanted to fit into a category or norm,” Rad explains. He was born questioning:
Why do we limit things or why do we put things into categories, be it race, religion, age, gender? I want my message to be about living your life with no limits. No categorizing. Always question. Who says you can or can’t wear a skirt? Who says you can or can’t wear heels? Who says you have to look like a certain way? Who says this religion is right or this religion is wrong?
At one point, I suggest he sounds like such-and-such Modernist philosopher. “I love that!” he exclaims. “I don’t know what you mean though.” Neither do I, entirely. I’m trying to fit Rad into molds I’ve been taught. Whereas Rad creates his own molds.
“I created my own pattern of two body shapes and I made it my standard,” he shows me. It took one year of work, studying female and male bodies from what we call a zero to plus-size, testing different patterns on different bodies, until he developed one unisex canvas. All Rad Hourani clothes start from this pattern.
This unique canvas exemplifies Rad’s technical facility (always best at math and art in grade school). He has the kind of logical mind that can look at a structure and figure out how it’s made. Or look at a flat sheet of paper and figure, from it, a pattern for a collarless tuxedo jacket with invisible stitching and hidden pockets that falls from the shoulders in a line that is just so. Thus the shadowing adjective architectural.
The one word you shouldn’t use in reference to Rad is fashion:
I want to make something clear, but it’s something that people are not always going to understand—I really have no interest in fashion. I think that fashion is a self-perpetuating trend machine. Fashion is about trends, selling, advertising, and I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in a language that communicates, not just to fashion people or art people, but to the whole world.
Yes, Rad makes clothes (also films, photographs, and installations) but he is far from fashion industry standard: he doesn’t abide by the standardized calendar, and his products, which don’t change much season to season, are made to order (absolutely no waste) in his own small factory in Montreal. It would be easy for someone with his success to run off a line of ‘Made in China’ t-shirts and basics—call it B by Rad Hourani—and make a quick buck. But he has no interest. That would compromise his principles.