Designer Rad Hourani was born in Amman to a Syrian mother and Jordanian father; he has lived in Montreal, Paris and New York and has travelled extensively. But don’t ask him which city he prefers. He lives in a world of his own making, “without colours, without seasons, without identities, without religions, without gender”.
The self-taught designer, who is 31 and now based in Paris, threads this sensibility into clothes that are “sexless, season-less and timeless”, using neutral tones, architectural cuts and luxurious leathers, silks and cottons – monochromatic uniforms for men or women that can be layered and transformed for extra versatility.
Hourani’s career has been short yet prolific; he has been showing his collections between New York and Paris for the past five years and has recently begun presenting at the couture shows as a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Lady Gaga and model Elisa Sednaoui have worn his clothes, and his collections are sold at the world’s top boutiques and featured in influential magazines.
Now, a retrospective exhibition will celebrate the young designer’s radical vision. Starting November 1, the PHI Centre in Montreal, Canada, will stage a multidisciplinary exhibition highlighting different facets of Hourani’s work.
“The exhibition illustrates my creative process,” he says. “I start by showing how I explored the male and female anatomy to create my unisex vision; then I display my unisex patterns, images from lookbooks and a documentary about my work. Everything will be black and white.”
There will also be an installation featuring a jacket once worn by DJ Jack Green during a performance at the Tate Modern. Cameras hidden inside the jacket will project images of visitors onto the surrounding walls.
Every week, musicians such as folk-pop wunderkind Chris Garneau, Québécois singer-songwriter Pierre Lapointe and Jack Green will play live sets. And in the pop-up shop, Hourani will work with different artists, architects and choreographers who share his desire to create unique performances and installations.
The research process has allowed Hourani to reach a deeper understanding of his own journey. “Now I really see the mental and physical process of my work,” he says. “I really see how I’ve evolved in my thoughts, and as a person. What’s clear is that I have a strong message on the way we live. My work is a reaction to the way we limit things in fashion, religion, gender. My message is to liberate ourselves from these boundaries; my clothes celebrate total freedom.”
Hourani became enthralled with the worlds of tailoring and elegance as a child in Amman, where he attended a nun’s school. His father, who had studied agricultural science at McGill University in Montreal, was often busy travelling and working. His mother occupied herself with shopping, redecorating their home and visiting the tailor, where she spent hours giving instructions on the exact position of a collar or a hem. “She gave me the desire to strive for a world where everything is aesthetically pleasing, charming and beautiful,” says the designer.
He left Amman for Montreal with his family at age 16 and, after his father was involved in a serious accident, decided to abandon his studies before completing high school. He was already obsessed with clothes and changed outfits three times a day. He knew he wanted to make a name for himself.
At 19, he became a model scout, then, after a friend asked him to work on a shoot, began a career as a stylist – collaborating with the country’s leading photographers, magazines and brands.
In 2005, Hourani moved to Paris. He had the idea to craft a collection of his own when he realised that he couldn’t find the clothes he needed anywhere. “That’s how it started,” remembers the slender designer, who dresses in fluid, androgynous, monochrome uniforms. “I made a collection of all-black, unisex clothes for myself. I’ve always been my own muse.”
Soon enough the industry took notice, and Hourani started showing his collections at Paris and New York Fashion Weeks, eventually creating a diffusion line, a perfume (Ascent, a heady essence concocted by star nose Christophe Raynaud for Givaudan), several films and photo shoots and, this year, a couture line. He was admitted as a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture on Dior CEO Sidney Toledano’s recommendation.
Over the years, Hourani has developed many variations on a single theme: anti-fashion fashion. Influenced by architecture, rock music, travel and photography, he explores the subtleties of black, grey and white, imagining complex textures, contrasts and trompe l’oeil effects. Wool jackets with leather sleeves; shiny leggings; pleats, zippers, drapings and lavish leathers: his collections mix razor-cut, hypertailored constructions with luxurious fabrics and tone-on-tone. They can all be worn in any season; some pieces have multiple forms – a vest that can shift into a dress or origami backpack, for example.
And while the attendees of couture week in Paris are accustomed to a plethora of lace, satins, jewellery and ruffles, Hourani’s collections are true to his vision: simple, tailored suits, coats and skirts in black and white silks – reflecting the designer’s belief that luxury is refined simplicity.
Hourani’s collections truly defy the norms of the fashion industry, where more is more, where need is constantly created by trends, fads and ‘it’ objects, and where fixed identities are presold to define power and class. Hourani’s desire is to to create quality pieces with superior fabrics that can be kept for a lifetime and worn over and over. And while he refuses to admit any references, Hourani is clearly a child of the conceptualism and minimalism of the Nineties – of Ann Demeulemeester’s punk style, Yohji Yamamoto’s structured black uniforms, Hedi Slimane’s androgynous black-and-white waifs, Helmut Lang’s subdued sexuality and, of course, Martin Margiela’s intellectual fashion.
These designers all developed radical visions that redefined the way we view our bodies and identities in society, blurring genders and the boundaries between the traditional and the avant-garde, streetwear and fashion, daywear and evening wear.
Hourani is particularly indebted to Slimane – a designer who truly established the skinny, androgynous look for men during his time at Dior Homme. Slimane, who is now at Saint Laurent, is the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll designer, shoots all his campaigns, and favours black and white and a nonchalant, slightly moody attitude; Hourani does too. But Hourani’s greatest inspiration is perhaps Karl Lagerfeld, who was the first designer to be involved in every level of his brand – from model selection and event organisation to shooting campaigns and launching side projects.
Case in point: early in his career, Hourani shot a self-portrait as Karl Lagerfeld and sent it to the ‘Kaiser’. Unlike Lagerfeld, he seems disinterested in becoming a massive commercial brand, claiming that he refuses offers from backers. But like him, Hourani strives to be the ultimate Renaissance man.