Amongst the elaborate ball gowns and intricately embroidered shifts that floated down the runway during Haute Couture Fashion Week, one designer was presenting a very different style of collection at the Embassy of Canada in Paris.
Rad Hourani, who was born in Jordan but raised in Canada, has lived in Paris for eight years now, designing what has become recognized as the first unisex haute couture line. Growing up, however, the 30-year-old Hourani had never anticipated becoming a fashion designer, let alone in the realm of couture.
“I never was interested necessarily in fashion,” Hourani told The Daily Beast. “I always was interested in aesthetic in general. I was pretty obsessed with how I looked, how everything looked around me. I would change outfits like three times a day.”
After finishing high school at 19, Hourani was scouted as a model, but wasn’t comfortable with the opportunity. Instead, he said, “I want to work in this field, what can I do?” Hourani began to dabble with a myriad of artistic careers, from model scouting to styling to art direction. When he moved to Paris three years later, he noticed that while his career continued to change, his shopping habits seemed to always remain the same. “I used to shop a lot,” he explained. “And at one point I said, ‘For Heaven’s sake, I’m spending all of this money on clothes, and not necessarily clothes I want 100%.’ There was always something missing from the clothes that I found.”
In October 2007, Hourani launched his first ready-to-wear unisex line, RAD by Rad Hourani, at a small art gallery in Paris. Featuring simple lines, draping, and architectural structure, his line, which was created in his small apartment in the city, nodded at both masculinity and femininity. “I started saying to myself, ‘What am I interested in?’ And all of a sudden I came with the question, ‘Who decided that men should dress differently than women?’ At the same time, I asked myself the same question about religion, age, gender differentiation, and nations, so I said, ‘How can I create something that can fit a man’s body and a woman’s body and something that I can keep for my entire lifetime.”
Unisex fashion is almost a century old, dating back to the 1920s when women felt more liberated and began tailoring men’s clothes to their fit. Pants with button-downs and suit sets, initiated by the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Coco Chanel, became more mainstream for women, until 1966, when Yves Saint Laurent introduced the Le Smoking tuxedo. The androgynous Le Smoking suit brought empowerment to women that was once only associated with men.
What Hourani strongly emphasizes most about the conception of his line, however, is the differentiation between unisex and androgyny, two terms that most people use interchangeably: “Androgyny is a style,” he said. “Unisex is erasing all limitations.”
The process continued organically, and as Hourani approached his five year anniversary as a designer, he met with the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which organizes the fashion week and designates certain houses as Haute Couture based on quality. Didier Grumbach, the president of the association, has an extensive history in the fashion industry, having co-founded Yves Saint-Laurent Rive Gauche with Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge, working alongside Hubert de Givenchy, and discovering the talent of a young Thierry Mugler. Hourani credits Grumbach for his foray into the haute couture world, first asking him to become an invited member of the Chambre.
To complete his accreditation, Hourani needed to show at least one collection off the calendar, as well as a fashion godfather. President and CEO of Christian Dior, Sidney Toledano, took Hourani under his wing, and a year-and-a-half later, he was accepted as a member—the first unisex member to be recognized by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.
In his most recent collection, shown January 22, Hourani showed pieces in all-black—including a transformational blazer that can turn into 14 other articles of clothing, from a corset and backpack, to a skirt and jacket. Yet, although this is his first monochromatic collection, Hourani insists that it is not something new or groundbreaking, but rather a continuation of his original aesthetic.
“It’s a process of evolution in the same language—how can you evolve within yourself to the next step. I think maybe this collection was by far the most sensual and romantic collection I’ve done, but maybe it’s because I’m in love and it feels really good. Also, I wanted to work with only black because I find it very challenging to make something complex and new from black. It’s more challenging to stick to one color. I wanted to do something that’s sensual but timeless. If you look at it in ten to fifteen years, I still want to be attracted to it. And I think that’s my goal always.”