Canadian designer based in Paris redefines couture with unisex garments

Jeanne Beker
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Feb. 12 2015, 12:00 AM EST

Among the small handful of Canadian designers making waves in international waters these last few seasons, one in particular has taken a rather unconventional tack. Rad Hourani, 32, is a Jordanian-born, Montreal-raised former stylist who moved to Paris in 2007 to launch his high-end brand of unisex clothing. Six years later, with no formal training, he was invited to show on the official haute-couture calendar – the first Canadian and only designer to present a unisex collection on the revered Paris runways. That initial show was both groundbreaking and well received. Hourani’s vision, courage and tenacity had paid off: Today he boasts a presence in scores of stores around the world, with devoted clients including royalty, celebrities and artists. Hourani’s bold, architectural pieces – at one time made exclusively in black – have a lot to say about the designer’s socio-political stance and his passion for sexual equality.

During the recent Paris couture shows, Hourani held court at the Canadian Cultural Centre on Rue Constantine, where he presented an arresting installation of his statement-making garments along with photography and a film of the collection, shot in an art gallery. Fashioned from unusual materials, such as plastic and nylon, and, this time, in colourful hues, Hourani’s costly, avant-garde unisex garments punched up the notion of couture as a form of art. I caught up with the outspoken designer shortly after he unveiled his collection to chat about neutrality, freedom from limitations and what’s wrong with Canadian fashion magazines.


It’s wonderful to see a different way of presenting a collection. After all, we’ve been doing the same thing for so long – and there’s a mood of sameness to everything that’s going on. Is that one of the reasons that you feel so strongly about being different?

Absolutely. I wasn’t attracted to the world of fashion any more. It became something that just represented trends. Consumerism is a very fast machine that is losing its soul because of the speediness of today. You’ve seen that, I’m sure, though the years. And it was definitely that that made me want to go somewhere else.

Is it important for you to continue basing yourself out of Paris? I know you came here with very specific reasons when you first moved here.

I think I like the idea of being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Of course I’m inspired by being here. But I think that we live in a world today where the Internet brings you everywhere, anywhere you are. So I don’t really see the necessity of just being here. I don’t see the necessity of just being in New York or just being in Canada. I think that, today, you can really have access to the whole world through the Internet. Of course, Paris is definitely a city that always inspires me and it’s the city where I walk the streets, where I do my grocery shopping, where I go to cafés. In other cities, I just go to events, or I’ll see my parents when I go to Canada.

What does it mean for you to be showing at the Canadian Cultural Centre here in Paris?

I’m hugely proud, especially thinking about the Canadian culture, where I really did develop as an adult. And the fact that the centre is supporting my work gives me great pride. I don’t find much support in Canada for Canadian fashion. Most of the time if you look at fashion magazines in Canada, they will support other international designers, but not really their own. From time to time they do something, but if you look at British or American or French magazines, they always support their own designers and they always look at their own identity. So doing something with Canada in Paris is a very proud thing for me. You’re here supporting me, and that’s amazing, but there aren’t a lot of people like that, especially Canadian retailers and magazines, as I said.

So you feel that the media pay too much attention to international talent and not our own homegrown talent?

Absolutely. One hundred per cent.

I know it’s tough for Canadian labels to get retail support, but I always thought our media did a pretty good job of supporting our talent.

Well, most of the Canadian magazines don’t feature Canadian designers enough. Their covers aren’t usually dedicated to Canadian designers. They feature Canadian designers here and there but I don’t think there’s a lot of real Canadian support for Canadian talent. And there should be. Just look at the British publications, from the their covers to their interviews. They feature so much British talent. Canada’s not like that. So how can the system change if there isn’t the support? It’s all a form of marketing and promotion and, if the retailers don’t see it and the public doesn’t see it in the magazines, how can you expect to get the support from the retailers? And how can we expect the public to buy as well? So you can’t say someone’s sales aren’t good when what you’re doing is just promoting everyone else.

You have a great passion for the notion of gender bending and the concept of unity. Talk to me a bit about that.

Well, for me, neutrality is just reality. It’s very important to me, because you look around at what’s going on in the world today – how religion, race, culture, age and gender are still issues in the world. I think it’s a necessity to free oneself of these limitations in life and just be kind of a neutral observer, not live with conditioning. It’s a very important form of expression for me and … not just in fashion. It’s important in the whole world as well.

Are you surprised that more people haven’t jumped onto the unisex bandwagon?

More people are starting to do unisex garments. But I’m definitely really happy to be the only one doing it exclusively, and one of the things that’s given me longevity is having that vision that I want to spend my life expressing. It’s not something that I’m going to let go of some day and focus on something else. If I become an artist or a sculptor, my work will always reflect the fact that boundaries of expression do not exist.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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