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Sans gender or season: Hourani shows unisex couture

Models present creations by Rad Hourani during the Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2014 collection show, on January 22, 2014 in Paris. (AFP PHOTO / PATRICK KOVARIK)

PARIS: An all-black summer collection filled with overcoats and leather is surprisingly not what makes Jordanian-Canadian designer Rad Hourani the rebel of Haute Couture.

He is the only designer during this week’s shows in Paris presenting unisex high fashion. The biannual fashion week – which falls between menswear and pret-a-porter – is an excuse for the world’s leading dress designers to present the most outlandish, sometimes outright fantastical, creations bound for red carpets and the wardrobes of their more exclusive clientele.

But each season, Hourani offers an anomaly of somber minimalism wedged between shows filled with sparking gowns and meters of chiffon. His creations might not seem so extreme if he were showing during the chaos and variety of ready-to-wear season, when casualwear and sportswear can strike unisex tones. But at couture week, the gender of clothing is most pronounced; indeed, every show Wednesday – with the exception of Hourani’s – included the word “feminine” somewhere in the press materials.

To float in the gray of androgyny, Hourani created a foundation of garments that crossed easily between womenswear and menswear, such as pants and vests, using unembellished black leather and crepe as neutral materials. Where other designers created soft lines from fluid silks and translucent chiffon, Hourani’s collection was structured and angular.

It’s not only gender norms that Hourani rejects; he also designs outside of seasonal constraints, which is probably why overcoats featured so big in a summer collection. Several of his models could have walked right out onto the rainy winter streets of Paris without turning a head.

Of course, Hourani also has to get quite inventive to make his unisex creations worthy of its haute couture label. Several of the pieces from his spring-summer 2014 collection were transformable. Jackets folded down into dresses. On female models, outfits cut for the rectangular torso of a man’s body were belted to give a waistline.

Sex appeal also becomes an interesting notion when creating unisex clothing. For spring-summer 2014, Hourani presented a lineup of vests with strips cut out of the backs to reveal the skin underneath. Practically every couturier is unveiling women’s gowns with revealing cutouts, but it was an interesting experiment to see men’s shoulder blades through the back of their shirts.

To blur the lines between menswear and womenswear there was a recognizable inspiration from non-Western clothing. For example, the ankle-length jacket became futuristic Indian sherwani or a knee-length leather tunic with open sides looked like a modernized shalwar kameez.

The international feel in the clothing is likely due to Hourani’s own background. He was born in Jordan, immigrated to Canada and now works in Paris. The designer attributes his own creativity to the many places he’s lived.

A staple inspiration of Hourani’s brand has been origami and that was clear this season in the way transformable clothing folded into new garments. The belted looks on women even gave the backs a kimono-like bump. Origami could also be seen in the way many layers created geometric silhouettes.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 23, 2014, on page 11.

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