On the last day of Paris’s spring 2013 haute couture presentations, a procession of boys and girls paraded down a narrow runway, swathed in an array of monochromatic, androgynous looks. The show’s boxy shapes, angular faces, and identical black bowl-cut wigs made it nearly impossible to tell the girls from the boys. But that was the point. The show was the work of designer Rad Hourani—the world’s first creator of unisex couture.
Hourani, age 30, is a Paris transplant by way of Montréal. Born in Jordan, his self-taught outlook on fashion is very different from his couture contemporaries—many of which presented sweet confectionary collections these past few days—a stark contrast to Hourani’s simplistic, sometimes even severe look. “Haute couture for me is about luxury and paying respect to all of the workmanship. It’s a respect for a design and luxury and quality, like an homage to art or things that have a value in society,” Hourani told The Daily Beast by phone last week.
Hourani, who also designs a unisex ready-to-wear collection called RAD by Rad Hourani, is best known in fashion circles for his neutral outlook on gender. “I don’t understand why a man has certain things he’s allowed to wear and women have skirts, and flower prints and high heels,” he said. “I don’t understand who made these rules.” Instead of attending a typical design school, he learned his craft by trial and error, taking a full year to conceptualize a pattern that would fit both men and women. But his emphasis really lies more in the “grey zone” than alluding to gender role reversal. “I think the aesthetic I’m creating is not a man going to a woman’s wardrobe, or a woman wearing men’s clothes. It’s a completely unisex vision.”
Since launching his collection in 2007, Hourani’s designs have spread to 130 stores in 30 countries. And yes, his clothes are even designed to fit women with womanly assets. “I have many woman clients with large chest sizes,” he attested. His template look, seen on Thursday’s runway, is anchored within a pair of broadly cut shoulders and an angular upper-body that typically pipes down into a slim-cut leg. The results are often cut in black and white with leather accents, and are sometimes topped by sweepingly long, almost clinical-type coats and vests. For his Spring 2013 couture collection, Hourani dressed each model in identical wigs and adorned their feet in a one-gender-fits-all approach to footwear—choosing slightly wedged sandals and elevated block-heeled booties for both boys and girls.
However, Thursday wasn’t Hourani’s first time to the couture rodeo—he presented his first couture collection off of the official calendar in July. In France, the world of haute couture is a highly guarded craft that’s overseen by a government-affiliated body, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. In July, Hourani’s work had not yet been recognized by the committee, but after receiving a recommendation from Christian Dior’s CEO, Sidney Toledano, he’s is now an officially invited member. That makes Thursday’s show the world’s first unisex couture collection ever shown. “It’s entirely different,” Hourani says of his newly-minted status, “It’s a huge thing for my career, not anyone can just show and say they are couture.”
But more than that, being deemed an official couturier breathes new enthusiasm into Hourani’s unisex vision. “It’s something that’s never been done in high end besides maybe a unisex t-shirt,” he explained. “It’s a language I’m very dedicated to, I think it’s something very important in our society. Unisex isn’t just a garment reference—it implies that age doesn’t exist, religion doest exist, and so on. There are no boundaries.”
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