Rad Hourani: Ying and Yang

fluoro spoke to Jordanian fashion designer Rad Hourani, about his unique unisex designs and creating his own rules.

Hourani appears to be an innately creative individual, who from no formal training became the first unisex fashion designer to present his collection at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week. To Hourani, designing for men and women at the same time is about complimenting the contradictions in all of us. The result is a selection of collections that are motivated by achieving luxury and elegance through their materiality, structure and wearability.

The unique garments in Hourani’s collections raise questions that are larger than fashion conventions and highlight the role of self-expression in fashion. The designer notes that he often refers to himself in his design process, reflecting on the nature of garments he would like to wear and why. He remains completely aware that it is convention that has defined the ways that people of certain ages and genders should dress.

Hourani is one of a number of designers who are featured in DX Museum’s, Canada exhibition titled Politics Of Fashion | Fashion Of Politics. As we approach the commencement of the exhibition – which will open later this month – we uncovered more about Hourani’s personal relationship to the political and how his designs act as a voice.

f. What motivated you to express your creativity through fashion?

RH. I have been driven by aesthetics in general since I was a kid and not just fashion. I was very aware of how I looked and how I wanted everything to look around me. I didn’t study after high school because, except for art and math class, I never enjoyed school. I was lucky enough to be curious about design, video making and photography. I learned it all by observing when I started scouting for a modelling agency. I ended up working full-time as a stylist at the age of 19. It was a bit like a five-year training program for what I do today.

I moved to Paris at the age of 23 to continue as a stylist but something happened there. When I shopped I never really found what I was looking for. That was when my unisex vision started. I sketched my first collection for my own wardrobe. I believe that looking for the exact thing to wear was the first step toward designing. I was looking for something very specific that did not exist. It was an advantage for me not to be programmed by a school or other conditions as I am my own teacher and I have the freedom to create whatever comes to my mind that fits in my unisex vision. I am the first person to design a high-end unisex collection in the world and that comes from my ‘no-background’ background.

f. Tell us more about your process in developing your designs.

RH. I think a great deal about myself when designing. Of course, I didn’t create a brand just for my own sake, but I believe that using what I would like to wear as a starting point for the design process is the most truthful and straightforward approach. It allows me to stay focused on my aesthetic and assess my commitment to wearability, functionality and comfort.

I have always been interested in creating something that looks minimal, but is complex to make. For me, that is the most challenging part of my work. I also admire the craftsmanship of making something extremely luxurious without it being showy. Attending to complexity and simplicity at the same time is a very long process. It’s all about ‘savoir faire’ that is working with the best of the best in every aspect: fabrics, tailoring, cutting, fitting, proportions, etc.

f. How do you believe looking beyond fashion conventions has progressed your role in the industry?

RH. I created my first collection for my personal wardrobe and I had no idea that it would go this far.

I like taking risks to make a difference in what we do in life. I like to create my own rules and not follow rules just to be part of an industry or a category. I do what makes sense to me and it always works out very well. Today, I am very proud and honoured to be an invited member of haute couture and to be the first unisex designer in history. I never thought that the past five years of doing what I love would bring me to this point.

f. Do you have plans to challenge other traditional fashion conventions?

RH. I want to make clothes that give the wearer a bold presence without looking contrived or overdone. It’s about apparent simplicity, with refinement in the details. I would like them to feel confident and powerful, sort of like a weightless armour. And to feel tall, straight, sharp, new, and slick. I want my geometrical shapes to come alive through the movement of the wearer. I hope to reach people who do not define themselves in strict terms.

My challenge has always been the same as that of any language: to be understood and make people react to what you say. Design for me is a tool for self-expression and self-invention. It’s about objects that transcend simple functionality and gain symbolic power by engaging in a dialogue with their environment and their time. My transformable pieces are conceived to allow each individual to create and choose their own style and usage of it.

f. When working on unisex designs, what role does the body play as a canvas?

RH. The idea arose from a series of questions: who decided that a man should dress in one way and a woman in another? Or that different ages should dress differently? Who imposed these codes? All of my pieces are made to be unisex. Each piece can be worn by any gender or age. It doesn’t make sense to me to limit things and that’s why I took a full year to study male and female bodies to create a canvas that can fit both. I think it’s about the yin and yang in all of us, the negative and positive, the masculine and feminine, the dark and light, the passive and active, the intuitive and logical, the cold and hot, the soft and hard.

f. Looking to your involvement in the DX exhibition, tell us more about the most political element of your designs?

RH. My methodology revolves around the notion of the present existing without a past. A pure present can’t be pure if you are not in the now. You can’t be present and have the past in you at the same time. To be in the present is to be free of the past and future. And I think it’s the same for clothing, it is about creating a form that can be the present at all times without fitting in any past categories. It’s a very challenging thing for me as it’s very easy to design trends or be the cool thing one day and nothing the next day. I want to be true only to my vision and to the people that see themselves in it. It’s very uncompromising.

In terms of moving his brand forward, Hourani refers to his vision of the mind as a computer, one that “registers everything around it, and it is not possible for it to function when it is full.” Hourani believes that we live in a time where information is over abundant, without the available time required to fully observe. For these reasons he is “inspired by the idea of erasing everything in me and starting over and over again all the time.”

Once Hourani’s slate is clean from looking within, he will no doubt produce another concept that rechallenges the vision that has been constructed of fashion.

Politics Of Fashion | Fashion Of Politics opens at the Design Exchange Museum in Canada on Thursday 18 September 2014 and will run until Sunday 25 January 2015. Other influential designers who will be exhibited include Hussein Chalayan, Jeremy Scott, Moschino, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier.


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