Lauded in Paris and New York as one of the finest fashion designers of his generation, Rad Hourani is the first invited designer by La Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris to create and showcase a unisex line. Hourani is revolutionizing fashion and is guest curator of the current monthlong exhibit Rad Hourani: Seamless, 5 Years of Unisex at Old Montreal’s avant-garde PHI Centre.
“I was inspired to do this when I went shopping for clothes and in the men’s section there would be something missing,” Hourani says. “The shapes were too big and the fabrics were too stiff; the finishing was not as nice as for women’s clothes. Then in the women’s section, the clothes were too short, the collars too wide, the armpits too tight. I wasn’t really comfortable and didn’t feel like myself.”
So in 2005, at the age of 23, Rad designed his first unisex collection, then launched his namesake label in Paris in October 2007. But whatever you do, don’t call him a fashion designer.
“The Montreal exhibit is really about showing that I am not a designer or a photographer,” says Hourani, who completed high school but never got a formal degree in fashion. He became a scout for a modelling firm at 19 before becoming a full-time stylist. “I am a visualist expressing a vision through different mediums.”
So do other designers think he is an imposter?
“I don’t think about what others think. I’m only concerned about where I am today. I did what is right for me, not to please others. When I see others wearing my clothes on the streets of Milan or Hong Kong, I feel it is an honour.”
Hourani grew up in a Catholic home in Jordan (his father is Jordanian and his mother is Syrian) before his family moved to Montreal when he was 16 years old.
“I never liked to put people in categories,” he says. “I don’t want to be categorized as a designer or photographer, and I don’t want to be labelled as straight or gay. But yes, I am attracted to men, I have a boyfriend, and in the society we live in I think it’s important to be open, even though I believe sex should remain personal.
“I was quite rebellious as a kid. I questioned things, I was feminine at a young age, and I was comfortable with it. I was [bullied] at school, but my brother protected me, in Jordan and in Montreal. Those experiences made me who I am today.
“I remember once [my family] was driving through [Montreal’s] gay village and we saw these two guys kissing, and my mom asked, ‘What is this?’ And my dad looked at me in the rear-view mirror and was smiling at me, looking at me like, ‘Mm hmm!’”
Rad Hourani: Seamless features anatomy drawings, patterns, photography and collections, as well as a pop-up shop at the PHI Centre where visitors can buy pieces from Hourani’s ready-to-wear collection and pick up the book Rad Hourani 5 Yrs of Unisex, only 300 copies of which are available. Hourani’s celebrated interactive jacket from the Tate Modern exhibition is on display in the room adjacent to the pop-up shop. The jacket, equipped with cameras, projects live images of visitors on all the screens of the PHI Centre. In the arthouse cinema, viewers can also see a looped 20-minute video installation on Hourani’s world.
“I never think I made it; I never tell myself, ‘I’ve made it,’” says Hourani, now 31. “I don’t enjoy celebrity when I want to be private. But I like the fact that media can communicate a message that can help society evolve, like I hope my clothes do. I feel extremely happy and thankful that I’m able to do this at the PHI Centre. It makes me feel complete, especially to do this in Montreal. It really represents what I’m about.”