Despite being in his early 30s, Rad Hourani has the kind of wisdom and experience many could only dream of. Sensual and cerebral at the same time, the Canadian designer has used his talent and skills to carve an innovative niche for unisex garments, putting differences aside to focus on uncharted common ground. He was, in fact, the first unisex designer to be accepted by the very selective Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris, demonstrating his vision had been acknowledged by his peers. Still, it wouldn’t be fair to describe him only as a designer, since Hourani is also an artist, a photographer and a filmmaker. This fall, Montreal’s Arsenal will honor him with a first retrospective, a project he’s been actively working on and curating for the past year. Warm and spontaneous in the flesh, Hourani comes across as a gentle and peaceful soul, but his intelligence is as sharp as his clothes. Throughout his career, he has rejected boxes and categories, trusting his instincts to do what felt right. His beautifully tailored clothes, which look attractive on men and women, are a way to harmonize and unify bodies, envisaging contemporary aesthetics in a forward-thinking way. It’s ironic that so many fashion houses -from Gucci to Prada and beyond- are evoking gender bending this season, something Hourani has pushed and genuinely believed in for years. We caught up with him to discuss emancipation through art, the power of unity and why it’s always good to challenge one’s beliefs.
Your first contemporary art exhibiton is called “Neutrality”. Why did you choose this title ?
Neutrality is the essence of my work, whether it be clothing, art, film or photography. Neutrality for me is something that cannot be defined through gender, age or race. It’s a peaceful and limitless state.
Why do we need categories to function ?
When I first moved to Paris 10 years ago, I was still looking for what I wanted to focus on and started working as an art director. Before launching my own line, I did a lot of soul searching, examining my own roots and cultural makeup. As I had been exposed to so many cultural influences, it generated this confusion in me. I felt the need to avoid categorizations and underline unity, as well as what we all share as human beings. Limitations make no sense to me at all, whether they’re social, religious or sexual.
How did this approach translate into clothing ?
I studied anatomy for a year. Understanding the human body better was fundamental. I approach my craft as a technician, because our bodies are a universal reference.
How do you feel about fashion’s current love affair with androgyny and gender bending clothes ?
You wouldn’t believe how many interview requests I’ve been getting for the past few weeks… Everyone’s trying to do unisex clothes now, but most of these clothes are not truly unisex. It takes quite a lot of research to get to that point.
Maybe that’s the Caitlyn effect ?
(mutual laughter) I never worked against the body and want to amplify it. My clothes fit many different people and lifestyles. I’m not trying to make a man look like a woman or a woman look like a man. I don’t think people realize how long it takes to develop unisex patterns.
Is gender a travesty ?
I think we should be free of gender differentiation. We should also move away from sexual binaries, geographical divisions and nationality groups. I believe we can emancipate ourselves from anything that creates division between people. Education may help us get there. These are my values as a human being and they will be showcased within the retrospective I’m putting together at Arsenal in Montreal.
How did the exhibition come about ?
I photographed my Haute Couture collection there among the artworks of several contemporary artists and we discussed the idea of the exhibition at that time. I’m really excited about it, because it’s the most freeing project I’ve done in years. I want to do more art actually, because it allows me to go further and expand some of the ideas I’ve had for ages. It all happened organically, I guess.
Is this how you approach life ?
I practice yoga and once my teacher told me that it was better not to get something you craved if you were not completely ready for it.
Do you believe in fate ?
I do. I used to be very impatient, but now I approach life day by day and really do what I feel like doing. It’s quite magical how everything I have desired seems to happen eventually -consciously or subconsciously- and I just hope it can continue this way. Your intention is something people will read, whether you’re aware of it or not. When I first met Pierre Trahan -the owner of the Arsenal- he told me he had been wearing my clothes for years and he trusted me with this exhibition, even though nothing had even been discussed. Now that it’s become a reality, I’m surprised to see how much of it was already in me. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in my whole life.
Text by Philippe Pourhashemi - Photography by Sabrina Jolicoeur - Styling by Samuel Fournier - MUA by Ashley Diabo - Model Nova at Dulcedo models - VIA VEOIR MAGAZINE