Today is the first day of the Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2013 calendar. Throughout the week, editors and couture clients will lay eyes on the ultimate of luxury fashion and high jewelry as dictated and interpreted by the likes of Donatella Versace, Christian Lacroix for Schiaparelli, Viktor & Rolf, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Zuhair Murad, and more. Amongst these select couturiers stands a staunchly individual artist—a young man of thirty-one, who, if must be labeled, prefers to be regarded as a “visualist,” as opposed to designer, for he is one who hungrily explores various visual passions—photography, architecture, music, film, design, and literature. His name is Rad Hourani, and he is the only couturier to present unisex designs on schedule at Paris Haute Couture.
While Hourani’s vision of one garment for both sexes is, indeed, unique when portrayed against the über-feminine ruffles, lace, prints, and sparkle of couturiers such as PierPaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri and Elie Saab, the concept of unisex dressing is not novel. It first emerged in the 1920s, when women began wearing trousers as leisurewear after having grown accustomed to wearing pants while assuming many male-dominated roles during World War I. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that the phenomenon became worthy of its own term—unisex dressing—as both genders started to wear jeans with homogeneous frequency.
“I have always been intrigued by unisex dressing,” explains Rad on the phone from Paris. “Who developed the codes? Who said that we have to dress this way?” I’m tempted to dive into a debate about the history of fashion as dictated by designers, society, and tradition, as well as note that as for the unisex phenomenon, it is still deeply one-sided. Unisex dressing largely evokes visions of a woman who dresses in what is deemed to be masculine clothing. Donning a blazer, brogues, a tie, a crisp white shirt, trousers, suspenders, a bolero, or a fedora—the woman is applauded for her sexy and empowering sartorial choices. Throw a “dress” or skirt on a man and he is labeled, albeit, by the masses, a cross-dresser. But, I am softened by Hourani’s sophisticated naivety. If he wears blinders to block out the external fashion codes, it is fundamental for him to maintain his timeless, ageless, and trendless aesthetic.
If you ask who Rad Hourani’s style icon is, he will respond plainly: “I am.” Born in Jordan in 1982 to a Jordanian father and Syrian mother, he moved to Montreal, Canada when he was sixteen. In 2005 he arrived in Paris to work as a stylist and two years later, launched his first ready-to-wear collection, RAD by Rad Hourani. In 2012, after a push from his godfather, Christian Dior’s CEO, Sydney Toledano, the entirely self-taught “visualist” became the first unisex couturier in history to be invited by the Fédération Française de la Haute Couture.
Equipped with no formal design training, Hourani explains of his design process: “I never begin by sketching actual clothes. I start by drawing architectural shapes, lines, and patterns. These shapes could be anything—furniture, buildings, anything. And from there, these ideas become a sleeve, a tunic, a heel.” Of his precision, he explains that he has always paid attention to detail. “I remember as a young boy in Jordan, my mother would get all her dresses designed at the atelier. She was always very direct in how she wanted a shoulder raised just slightly, or a hem lengthened just so. Though my aesthetic is completely different to her way of dressing, I apply a similar attention to detail as she did in the fitting room.”
The garments, origami folds and geometric insets are, for the most part, produced in a palette of jet-black and/or white. “The two shades represent the masculine and feminine which we all carry inside of us,” explains Rad. “I always go back to black. It is powerful—but there’s also the practical aspect. If you are paying several thousands of dollars for a garment, it shouldn’t look dirty in a day, which can be the case with white.”
“My garments are meant to be collector’s items,” he continues. “And I feel very free. I don’t care what anybody thinks. I don’t care about the trends and I am not influenced by the other designers. I am only influenced by myself and the ongoing culmination of my own life experiences.”
As for the silhouettes, if Hourani is taking inspiration from architecture, he’s not necessarily following the school of Antoní Gaudí…not that Hourani follows anyone, for that matter. His lines are strict and often vertical to help elongate the body. The result looks “slick”—a word Hourani employs often to describe his aesthetic. Precision is key and one imagines that each fold, pleat, and drape has been calculated with mathematical exactness. “I build layers like a sculpture,” he says. Deconstructing and remapping, he once crafted a garment made of six fabrics and with it, created 22 new shapes.
Some might wonder, if by dressing the body in unisex garments, are we not, in some manner, hiding who we are? Perhaps it is that Hourani’s intent is to create an interest—not in a woman’s voluptuous chest, or round hips, nor in a man’s robust shoulders, but rather, create a visual palette that leaves both the wearer and the person visualizing it intrigued by what Hourani is actually adorning: not the body, but the individual’s mind. By creating androgynous, monochromatic garments, Hourani invites us to consider an identity void of barriers and boundless in opportunities. The appeal in Rad Hourani’s designs is that his garments pave the road for a new discussion, one that orbits honesty—for honesty knows no age, no season, no trend, no race, no nationality; and it is equal, to both man and woman. Truth follows no one. Truth is the beginning and Rad Hourani’s dialogue is one that we are keen to understand further.
Rad Hourani will present his Fall/Winter 2013 Haute Couture collection this coming Thursday, July 4th at which renowned American film director, Larry Clark, will be filming. Rad Hourani is currently working on a first retrospective of his work at the Phi Centre in Montreal, Canada to feature his photography, fashion, and videos.
interview by Caterina Minthe