Blame it on our complacent, laid-back nature, but despite all our talent, only a precious handful of Canadian designers have ever managed to make on the international fashion stage. And not one has ever been invited to show on the official Paris Haute Couture calendar. So when 30-year-old Rad Hourani, a Jordanian-born former stylist, became the first Canadian to present a collection sanctioned by the mighty Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris last week, industry enthusiasts were both proud and elated.


I first met Hourani when he was in his early 20s. His sartorial sensibility bowled me over — boldly avant-garde yet exceedingly elegant. A few years later, in 2007, Hourani moved to Paris to start his own label.


It was a gutsy move, as Hourani had no formal design training. But what he did have in spades was vision, courage, tenacity, and passion. Within five years, he not only managed to create a successful niche business for himself, with his edgy, mostly black unisex clothing, but he also tried his hand at an “unofficial” couture collection last season that was very well received by a host of international clients. This season, with a coveted invitation to show on the official couture calendar, Hourani served up a modern, black-and-white unisex story that was brave, unapologetic and highly sophisticated. I chatted with the designer at the Canadian Cultural Centre, just after his dramatic presentation, about what it takes to realize a dream.


Q: Your work is like nothing we have ever seen at couture. Which is ideal. We want something unique. But it really is such a departure. Did it make you insecure that maybe you wouldn’t be accepted?


A: Never! From the beginning, I started with a high-end unisex line. It wasn’t something that existed before. I never do something for the eyes of others. Do you know the book by Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead? For me, the personality of Howard Roark is the way I see the world. Many people said to me, “You have to read this book. It’s you! You’re in it.” And when I read it, I felt this is exactly what I’m talking about. If you have a vision, you don’t compromise and you don’t exist for the eyes of others. You don’t do things thinking about what others will think.


Q: But surely this is an extremely costly exercise, even to produce just one of these garments. There’s so much work that goes into it. How do you manage to create a whole collection of this magnitude?


A: Last season, when I did the off-calendar collection as a test, I was extremely surprised when we had so many clients ordering these haute couture pieces. We had royal families, celebrities, artists — from everywhere. And they ordered almost the whole collection! This wasn’t something I thought would happen — that someone would pay $25,000 for a jacket, or $10,000 for a pant.


Q: But they do.


A: Yeah. And they wear it, and they send us notes like, “I feel amazing. I feel powerful. I feel timeless, luxurious . . .” Many of them flew in today for the show, too.


Q: From where?


A: Some of them flew from the Middle East, some of them from the U.S. and Canada.


Q: So you know now you have a market.


A: Exactly. But that’s my answer to your question about it being so expensive. If that didn’t happen, I don’t know if I would be doing it again.


Q: Do you feel that this, in a way, is announcing a new age of couture? Because what’s going on here is really so far from being traditional.


A: For me, couture is not just about feathers and pearls. I think couture is about paying respect to the savoir faire and all of the luxurious quality that goes into a garment and the vision that goes into it. And I think couture doesn’t mean you just wear it at night. I think it’s important to me that I create something I can wear 24 hours a day. I have my own language, and maybe that’s why you see it as new.


Q: Like any creative person, I’m sure you are vulnerable to some degree. You’re an artist after all, and as secure as you must be on some levels, we all have our demons. Was there any aspect about today’s presentation that had you feeling nervous?


A: Never. I think I have lots of guts. And I’m very persevering. And very focused. I’m never insecure about what I do in terms of whether it’s going to work or not. Look at my last show — I didn’t know if a client would buy it or anything. I think if you really do what you love and you’re really honest about it and you give your best to it — something will always come out of it. You see what I mean? I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t been doing it this same way since I started. I never thought I’d be doing haute couture. I never thought all of that could happen. And selling to 130 stores in 30 countries around the world! I think that’s just something that comes from working hard, being true to yourself, having a very precise vision, and giving it your best. It’s not just about making fashion or being talented.


Q: What has this business taught you so far?


A: To respect yourself and to respect your vision and above all, to have your own language, your own way of doing things. Don’t do it to be part of a group because you need to concentrate on your own thing. One day you can be on top and the next day you can be nothing. I think it’s also important to be honest to your client and to people around you.


Q: How are Canadians regarded on the world fashion stage, do you think?


A: I think there are definitely talented people in Canada. But I think it’s important to travel and experiment, and not sit in a comfort zone. I think Canada is an extremely comfortable country — one of the best countries in the world. I think the reason why I am the first one (to be featured in Paris in this way) is because I was never comfortable with comfort. Every time something was comfortable or established I had to break it all and start again. After five years of styling, I was just bored because nothing was challenging anymore. I think that’s a character or personality trait. I think I have it a lot of that in me.


Q: What advice would you give a young person who was trying to pursue their dreams in fashion?


A: Don’t do it just to be part of it. Do it because you have something to bring to this world and be true to yourself. Be an individual and be ready to persevere and to work extremely hard, because it’s not an easy business.


Q: Do you think you’re in this for the long haul?


A: I think so. I love it. I am enjoying it. We’ll see. I think step by step. And I think everything will happen at the right place and right time and that everything will happen for a reason. My vision is to keep on doing it, and to keep on showing, because I have lots of ideas in my head for couture.


Since I was a kid, I never wanted to be like others, or dress like others. I wanted to create my own thing and I think I’m still doing that.


 Interview by Jeanne Beker for The Star