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Fashion

Designer Rad Hourani Is Breaking Down the Gender Binary with Unisex Garments

I called up designer Rad Hourani to discuss fast fashion, the importance of couture, and the future of unisex clothing.

by Erica Euse
Feb 4 2015, 9:00pm


All images courtesy of Rad Hourani

For the past seven years Rad Hourani's vampy, futuristic clothing line, Unisex, has been pushing the boundaries of the gender binary that is deeply rooted in the fashion industry. While many designers flirt with the idea of androgyny, Rad goes beyond blurring the line between men and women to completely disregarding it with his avant-garde, asexual collections. His shadowy, geometric pieces even earned him a spot at the Paris Couture Fashion Week, making him the first and only unisex designer to ever show at the coveted event.

Originally born in Jordan, the striking 32-year-old native of Canada didn't design his first pieces until the age of 25. He was inspired to create Unisex because he couldn't find the kind of garments he wanted to wear in stores. Women's clothes were too tight, men's clothes were too loose, and the fabrics were always wrong. So he took on the challenge of learning the entire design process and making his own line.

When it came to designing, he wanted to develop an aesthetic that was simple and complex, but neither male nor female. He tailored his pieces to both sex's anatomies. Only five years after moving from Montreal to Paris to pursue a career in styling, he was showing his collections at the Chambre Syndicale de La Haute Couture.

Taking his inspiration from art and architecture, this season Rad presented his latest collection as a weeklong exhibition in Paris in collaboration with L'Arsenal Contemporary Art Center. The unusual setup allowed viewers an interactive experience that is not provided by the usual six-minute runway show. The exhibition, which allowed viewers to see the garments as sculptures, made complete sense for a designer like Rad, who approaches each of his pieces as a definitive statement, with no interest in the fast-changing trends of the fashion industry.

I called up Rad in Paris on the closing day of his exhibition to discuss fast fashion, the importance of couture, and the future of unisex clothing.

VICE: When did you decide to start a clothing line?
Rad Hourani: I started as a model scout at 19 and after that I became a full-time stylist. When I first moved to Paris I was trying to find clothes that resonated with my way of dressing and the way I wanted to express myself. I realized the clothes that I was looking for did not exist, so I taught myself how to design clothes. My desire for unisex came from something that I was looking for, but I couldn't find.

What were the first pieces you designed?
It was actually a full collection for myself. I was shopping a lot at that time and the women's clothes were too tight and too short. The men's clothes were too loose or the fabrics were not my kind of fabrics. I learned about the fabrics that I liked and what I was attracted to in terms of comfort and in terms of my own look. For the first collection I wanted to make pieces for my wardrobe that were architectural. It was not planned to be what it is today, it was just something that was a necessity for me.

How did growing up in Montreal influence your style?
I think the newness of Montreal made me free to do what I wanted. I think Paris inspired me to not just do things to do things because there is such a history and a profound uniqueness. It forced me to make my own style. Canada gave me the freedom to just start and do something because there isn't that history.

Why was it important for you to make a line that is unisex?
I made an observation before starting Unisex to understand who I am as a person and how to express myself. For me, clothing is a reflection of who we are and it is the first way to express yourself when you see someone. I didn't understand who decided that a man should be dressed differently than a woman and all of these other limitations that we have in life like our age, gender, religion, nation, or any other boundaries that divide people from each other. I am someone who likes to live with no limitations or boundaries. So I thought, Why are there no unisex clothes? Each garment is a neutral garment that can be worn by a man or women or any kind of gender.

How unisex is different from androgyny?
Androgyny is a style, feminine is a style, and masculine is a style. What I am trying to do are not androgynous clothes. What I am doing is creating a neutral canvas that people can use and adapt to their wardrobe any way they want. Unisex is not a style, it is a neutral garment and lifestyle.

What is your creative process like?
I always work with paper and a pen. I never start with a mood board or any direction. It is always an evolution from point zero to four. I always evolve in myself and in an architectural complex way that looks simple. Working with graphics and architectural shapes gives me my own direction and without needing to start from zero each time. That is also why I call my collections number 1, 2, 3, because I want it to be an evolution and I want it to be timeless. I don't want it to be for certain periods of time or certain trends.

How do you design each garment to fit the different sexes?
I work with a very architectural and rectangular canvas so it can fit any type of body. I did one year of study on anatomy to know how men's and women's bodies work. I assembled that all together to make one canvas. If you look at the website and see how the clothes are presented, you can see how you can make it masculine or feminine.

Do you hope all fashion will move towards being unisex?
I have been receiving many articles lately that have been referring to people going more into unisex, gender-less, or androgynous. Maybe there is an influence or maybe people are just starting to see that there should be no boundary between dressing.

What inspired you to use different materials and colors in your recent collection?
At the Center of Contemporary Art, where I shot my collection, there were many different art works that gave me the idea of including unusual fabrics. I wanted to present the collection as an exhibit rather than a presentation or a show. I wanted it to be open to the public for the whole week of couture and I wanted it to be expressed in photography, film, and installations. For the installations, I wanted the clothes to look like sculptures. I thought if I did it in all black or drabber colors, it might be less fitting with the artwork and the whole concept of the exhibit. So that's why I used color and fabrics like plastic and nylon that people don't usually use in couture.

Why is it important to you to present your pieces as art?
I think couture is a form of art. Ready-to-wear is something I need to produce to sell in stores around the world. If I work for six months on a couture collection and then show it in six minutes and rush everyone, they don't have the time to feel the clothes and get close to them and have time to see them. For some people they didn't understand the exhibit, but to me it makes perfect sense.

You've mentioned before that you aren't really interested in fashion.
I am not attracted to a machine that is just about producing and following trends. I think art is what makes us dream and continue in what we love to do. For me the word fashion is not what I am attracted to anymore. I want to build my work as a form of art as much as possible and at all times.

What other projects are you working on?
I am constantly working on photography and more film. I have different projects coming up. I might be collaborating with Larry Clark for an exhibit at my gallery in Paris. I also want to concentrate more on my website. We live in an online world and I want people to have access to this unisex world just by coming to RadHourani.com.