Self-taught high fashion designer Rad Hourani presented his first collection during Haute Couture Fashion Week last week. Throughout the entire history of fashion, Hourani is the first invited designer by La Chambre Syndicale de La Haute Couture in Paris to create and showcase a unisex line. Fashion, at long last, is embracing new ideas of masculinity and femininity.
In today’s world, expressions such as “androgyny” or “transgender” do not complete the sociological picture. While switches, interweaving, and crossovers between male and female wardrobes were the principal notions in previous fashion collections, Hourani’s clothing line goes beyond that. The Canadian couturier does not assign clothing to gender. He promotes conformism as the essence of individualism without restrictions on gender, age, or season.
The runway show took place outdoors on a fresh grass lawn using Parisian architecture as the backdrop. Using an equal number of male and female models, Hourani kept makeup as natural as possible and hair sleekly swooped into a low bun. For his clothes, the designer focused on the classic colours of black, white, and marine blue. Every look that came down the runway was very sculptural and conservative in nature. Trench coats had multiple lapels and crepe silk blouses were transformed into architectural corsets with skilful pleating. Models sported long leather pants, sometimes with shorts over those pants. Men wore boots with heels and women waist-defining leather belts. Bags were not worn on the back or shoulders, but were tied around the waist. Always graphic and refined, Hourani’s collection was meant to challenge our attitude towards ourselves and those around us.
The final walk consisted of models wearing white masks, thereby concealing their identities. An elegant display of people without+t gender, the last look at Hourani’s collection hit home as he conveyed our new social reality of how sexual identities and relationships are no longer distinguished between straight or gay. It is not about how men and women should dress, but about what fits them best. Fashion now concerns what looks good on both. It’s about modernity.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY Nitzan Shahar
by Anca Macavei
What do you consider as being “Sacred” nowadays?
We live in a very fast society today and things are made to consume more and more. I don’t feel like I belong to this kind of way of living as I do things that I find a necessity for, there’s a meaning to what I do. I don’t do things to fill in a category or in a society and that is “Sacred”.
One of your key approaches to life is the “no restrictions” one. Where is your limit on this topic and which are the topics on which you impose yourself limits or allow others to do it?
Restrictions should be only for criminal acts, murder or stealing or any negative act that can happen in our life. I can’t tell anyone what to do or not to do, I can only suggest my vision and it’s each person choice to take what makes sense to them from what I do. I’m anti all limits in life that can stop us to evolve and move forward. Everyone should feel free and positive in there life to do what ever they like to do without living in the eyes of others.
“Beauty is everywhere, yet perfection is nowhere“ you once stated. Point me one thing/concept/idea that embody the concept of perfection for you.
To attend perfection can be in anything ; designing, cooking, studying, etc. It’s like making no mistake at all, but it’s impossible. Perfection for me is the illusion of attending something that it’s at it best forever. It can’t be possible if you want to grow and learn in life, it’s like stopping to evolve. What is perfect for someone can be imperfect to another.
You have listed Michelangelo Antonioni's “La Notte” among your favorite movies, why is that? How do those cinematic concepts of interrupted journeys, dysfunctional relationships and a seemingly unattainable search for sincere passion echo in your life?
I really enjoyed how the story was told in such a simple and poetic/modern way. Everything seemed perfect but again it’s like dying to yourself by having everything set to an illusion of comfort or finding love. It’s a very good example of relations in monogamy. I’m in love right now and I don’t know where it will go as I don’t want to set rules to my relation, I want to enjoy every moment if possible and we’ll see where it will go.
You always mention how much you want your designs to be anchored in contemporary, and you try to avoid as much as possible the vintage look. Do you think there is present without past?
There’s definitely a present without a past. A pure present can’t be pure if you are not in the now. You can’t be present and having the past in you at the same time. To be in the present is to be free of all the past and future. And I think it’s the same for clothing, it is about creating a form that can be the present at all time without fitting in any past categories. It’s a very challenging thing for me as it’s very easy to be designing trends or being the cool thing one day and nothing the next day… I want to be true to my vision only and to the people that see themselves in it, it’s very uncompromising.
The geometric shapes like rectangles constitute a strong base for all your collections. Do patterns or geometry have any particular meanings to you as sacred shapes, or else, where does this aesthetic come from?
Symmetry and rectangles shapes are the main base of my design. They help me to attend the “Unisex” vision that I have been building for the past 6 years. The geometry in my shapes are made of these to things and I find that they make the human body look longer and modern. I think that I’m very unconsciously attracted to architect and I think that’s where all of it come from.
The concepts of timeless and genderless are your main distinctive elements. Did they come up from just the idea of doing something different, opposite to the current state of fashion or is it something more personal? Do you see yourself as belonging to only one gender or category?
They came up from the idea of no trends and no rules or codes of dressing and that is different in our society. I have no intrest in fashion, I am interested in the human being and they way we live in our world, especially on planet earth. I 100% belong no category or gender as my message is all about not limiting yourself to any of that.
Unisex refers to things that are suitable for either gender that are shared by both sexes. Is it just a somehow utopian approach that you reflect artistically in your work or would you really like the world to be constituted on this premises?
I would like to see a world built with complete freedom and new way of thinking and to have more people that observes things rather than just following others. Religion has always exsited as we always need a guide in our life and I’m not interested in being a guru or a chef. The hope is not in me but in all of us. Unisexe is a new way of being that can be applied by anyone, anywhere at anytime.
“Fashion is an illusion” you said. Therefore you see yourself as a creator of illusions and the magicians of the 20th century are the fashion designers?
I always say “Everything is an illusion” and that include fashion, art, design and me. Today’s fashion designers are just making collections to sell and to please editors and press, there’s nothing magical about that. Very few designers make things differently that can inspire people to think forward and dream. There’s magic in everything in life but you have to look deep for it, it’s not always evident but I’m thankful to know that it’s always possible.
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