Rad Hourani is the first unisex designer ever invited by La Chambre Syndicale de La Haute Couture in Paris to show a couture collection. In 2006, he relocated to Paris to devote himself completely to designing. Since then, Hourani has built up two successful lines: RAD by Rad Hourani (ready-to-wear) and Rad Hourani (haute couture). And yet, for all these accomplishments, Hourani is gentle and generous; never dragooning or demanding. He's an observer who listens intently and responds with sensitivity and the quiet confidence of an artist who believes in his work.
Every piece is designed and drawn exclusively by Hourani himself. Agnostic with respect to a wearer’s gender, he knows precisely how a perfectly constructed garment will feel in use. For him, design is synaesthesis: when he sketches a design on the page he feels it on his body. Although he prefers and respects silence, his speaking voice is warm, simultaneously intellectual and sensual, enveloping the listener in his point of view. SSENSE caught up with him just weeks after showing his collection at Paris’ Haute Couture Fashion Week. In the process, we discovered why his designs transcend the typical — the man himself is extraordinary.
There’s a poster that you pinned up backstage at a RAD by Rad Hourani show in 2011. It was for the models to see before they walked out, and it read: “Walk straight ahead look straight ahead don’t stop don’t pose sharp turns be confident love yourself.”
Those are such pretty words, it’s like a poem, but it seems like it could also be read as a mantra, or a dictum.
Yes, absolutely. It is a way of living, a way of being. I think what I do is about complete lifestyle. In that lifestyle this is the way I like to be. What you like in these words is a reflection of my life.
Are you a workaholic?
I am really obsessed with what I do and I really love what I do. But, for me, I don’t see it as a problem. I am definitely an extreme person. When I love, I really love, and when I work I really work, and when I concentrate on something, I give everything. I don’t look at it as a job. I am doing it because this is my life, this is who I am. That is why I’ve refused many offers from backers and things like that, because I don’t want to be controlled.
Did you come by that attitude on your own or was it something that you were taught?
I always knew what I wanted. Of course my tastes have changed, and I’ve definitely evolved, but I think I’ve always been sure of what I want. It’s something that you can learn from experience, from life, but it’s not something that someone can program in your head. It has to come from you. I’m sure I’ve felt fear too. For instance, I built up a career, five years of styling, and one day I just completely stopped and went to design. Of course I had some fear in me. We’re all fragile, and insecure, and vulnerable, too.
Have you ever felt like you’ve wasted time?
No. I don’t think I ever wasted time. Without everything that I loved before I wouldn’t be where I am today. In that sense I never wasted my time. I don’t regret anything that I have done or that has happened to me. I think everything was perfectly at the right stage and right moment. And it had to to be the way it was.
Do you have any obsessions at the moment?
Well, recently I am a godfather to two kids.
Congratulations. How do you find being a Godfather?
Just to be with a baby, it gives you so much life and light. The baby is always observing and always present — there is nothing in their mind that is programmed. That is something that I really love, because what I do is about erasing rules. And to see a baby! How pure and powerful that can be, just to restart again from zero and to observe all the time and be present all the time.
Do you remember yourself as child?
I was very particular. I never wanted to wear what other kids were wearing. I never wanted to do what other kids were doing. And I was a very quiet child. When there was a lot of people together I would leave the gang and go sit by myself…because maybe I did not like the noise or something like that.
Was it always in your nature to want to erase the rules?
I was questioning things since I was a kid. I remember one night at my grandparents house — I was really a kid, a child — and I was looking at the sky and the stars and questioning what is up there…kind of asking myself how we are, how we function…what are these stars and what is this planet that I am on. I remember that moment was so…not intense, but…it was almost as if there was a light coming out of my head, that moment was really strong.
Do you have memories of being a little kid with your parents?
When I was a child my mom used to get her dresses made in an atelier. I would go with her every time. And she would be standing there with these patternmakers around her and sewers around her and she would tell them, ‘I want to make the neck lower or higher’ or ‘I want the epaulettes smaller or shorter’. We would go to the fabric stores all the time and when she’d come in, the salespeople would say ‘Ah, Madame Hourani, we received this new silk or this new crepe that you really like’. So the words of the fabrics were always in my head. I think I was always influenced by that. I am not doing the same kind of design but I think these moments really influenced me in an indirect way.
That sounds so romantic. Do you remember what those dresses looked like?
She has lots of black dresses, she likes blue dresses, she likes silk. There was this nice dress I always liked: it was a very straight black dress, to the knee, and it had a big shoulder. All the rest of the dress was black and the neck was kind of a round shape that had a gold line around it. It was one of my favorite dresses she made. It is not my style of dress today, but it’s something that I liked when I was a kid.
Let’s talk about your ready-to-wear and haute couture lines.
Rad Hourani is now the official haute couture line and RAD by Rad Hourani is the ready-to-wear line, and I think both of them complete each other in a way. First of all, everything I create, I create what I feel like wearing, so I feel all of my collection is basically made for myself.
I am the only designer. I completely design everything from A to Z, with no exception. It’s not an assistant that draws it for me and puts it out there. And this is something interesting to talk about because I never talk about it in other interviews: I think it’s important to understand that my creations come from how I feel about something. My hand will draw something that I am feeling on my body at the same time. For example, if I think of a shape, when I draw it I think of myself wearing it right away, and it’s almost like the pencil is moving on the paper but the paper is my body in a way.
Most of my designs are symmetrical and they are very graphic, 90 degree angles, very rectangular. I’m not attracted to round shapes or shapes that make the body look short. I like shapes that can be adapted to any kind of style. Since the beginning I took a year to understand a mans body and womens body. My designs have always been unisex and unisex design means each garment can be worn on men or women.
That's another way that you are erasing rules.
I’m trying to erase everything that is learned, in a way. When someone looks at my garment I am not interested in being put in a category of 60s, 70s or 90s. It is absolutely not and I don’t have any vintage reference in my clothes.
What did you study about the body and what did you understand about the male body or the female body?
For me my study was mostly about, a male body needs to have this part covered or that part not covered or this part comfortable for movement...I studied the body in terms of a physical comfort more than in an aesthetic way — it’s not about beauty necessarily. Its more about physical comfort and physical movement...When people wear my clothes they say 'I feel protected, I feel powerful, I feel comfortable, I feel confident, I feel timeless.'
Everyone wants to know about your plans for the future, but is it fair to say that you can't dictate what the future will look like?
It’s exactly that! I never thought five years ago that I will be an invited member in Haute Couture, so in the next five years I don’t know where I am going to be. But I know that I will continue to do what I love the most, and give it everything I can give it. I’ll keep on loving every part of it.