Photographer: Raff Grosso - Stylist: Mariaelena Morelli - Make-up: Alice Coloriti using Laura Mercier - Hair: Daniela Magginetti @MKS Milano using L’Oréal Professionnel - Stylist Assistant: Matteo Carraturo - Model: Tom Heukels @Elite
The connotations attached to haute couture are usually summed up in three words: elitist,
feminine and expensive.This narrow view of one of fashion’s oldest institutions, dating back
to 1868, is what has led to the growing speculation of its very demise. Can haute couture survive
the onslaught of mass market clothing and its minuscule prices? Who is haute couture’s client
today? And, perhaps most importantly, does anyone outside of the fashion industry even care
if the tradition dies? For these reasons and so many more, the governing body which oversees
couture fashion week in Paris, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, has begun a campaign
to redefine its image. In November 2012, the organisation made a move that few saw coming: it
invited Rad Hourani, a designer of unisex, aseasonal collections to be the eleventh designer
officially allowed to show during its fashion week; an incredible move that placed this
five-year old label next to fashion powerhouses such as Christian Dior, Chanel and Givenchy.
Rad Hourani was born in Jordan in 1982 to a Jordanian father and Syrian mother. At the age
of sixteen, his family relocated to Montreal, Canada, where he completed his high school
studies. Following graduation, Hourani started working as a model scout, eventually switching
gears to work as a full-time stylist. His experience as a stylist would prove highly
influential on the design aesthetic his namesake brand would come to be known by. Hourani
explains that, “I have always been driven by aesthetic in general and not just fashion.
I believe that looking for the exact thing to wear was the first step into designing my
collection. When I was a stylist, I was looking for something very specific that did not
exist: genderless, timeless, seasonless, and ageless”. Once satisfied by his experience
behind the scenes in the fashion industry, Hourani decided to up the ante by moving to
Paris in 2005. The move was prompted by gut instinct and could not have been better timed.
In 2007, at the impressively young age of 25, Hourani launched his eponymous line as a
way to design his ideal personal wardrobe; he admits that he had no intention of filling
a gap in the market or catering to commercial concerns. But like it or not, Hourani’s
penchant for strong, clean and almost reference-less designs struck a chord with some of
the greater fashion powers that be. Instantly picked up by retail barometers of cool such
as Seven New York and Luisa Via Roma, it took only a few seasons for Hourani’s popularity
to soar. He is quick to describe his vision as utopian, a label that certainly seems
apt when comparing his work with contemporaries. According to Hourani, “what we wear is a
reflection of who we are, but I am not interested in fashion. My interest is in the world
and the people that live on this planet and I hope that my life will serve to communicate
a message that can evolve our society and the way we live. My message is not just about
clothes or art or film, it is about a complete lifestyle and a way of being”. Sticking true
to his quest, Hourani launched Rad by Rad Hourani in New York; a more affordable, lower
price point label that aimed to carry his unisex, aseason wardrobe to a larger audience.
With his debut on the official haute couture calendar this January, claims to the beginning
of an evolution can certainly be made. It is as if the history of fashion has finally
caught a glimpse of its future. Hourani approaches his new membership with great weight;
“we live in a very fast society today where everything is about fast production and copying,
where we don’t have the time to digest. For me, I think that haute couture is to attribute
respect to all the craftsmanship that goes into making a luxurious collection. It
is about ‘Le savoir faire’. It feels right for me to do it today. I like to create my own
rules and not to follow any rules just to be part of an industry. I do what makes sense to
me and it always work out very well.” While the effects of his appointment may not be felt
immediately, Hourani’s role in the future of haute couture, and also in the larger world
of fashion, is cemented. Perhaps if we had it his way, we’d have better things to discuss
than the rising or lowering of hemlines. Hourani wants us to imagine. Or at least to try.
TEXT BY Megan Wray Schertler FOR OPEN LAB MAGAZINE
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.