“I don’t like the word ‘fashion,’” says haute couture garment designer and contemporary artist Rad Hourani during a tour of his current exhibition Neutrality at Griffintown’s Arsenal gallery, a few hours before the show would open to the public. “It represents trends and I think I’m a very timeless designer. I don’t like to consume just to consume.”
If that sounds like something unusual to hear from a designer working within the notoriously consumption-driven fashion industry, let it be the first clue that Rad Hourani doesn’t let convention get in the way of his vision. Designing classic, unisex garments (which are produced completely in Montreal) is just one outlet of Hourani’s creativity, where garment design joins photography, filmmaking, sculpture, painting and printmaking among the media used by Hourani to communicate an idealistic vision of a world that is nationless, genderless, ageless, raceless and limitless.
This vision is articulated in the Neutrality exhibition through works that illustrate the development of an individual from innocent childhood to complex and nuanced adulthood, stopping along the way to emphasize humans’ connections with nature and with each other through interpersonal and social relationships. Through the exhibit, Hourani takes the viewer on a journey through his own growth as an artist with works that draw from the personal experiences many of us can relate to, like marking a shift in focus, dealing with a sense of disconnectedness and opening oneself to intimacy. In Hourani’s ideal world, just as each person develops from a child to an adult, so too can our society develop from one rife with divisions based on class, gender, religion and other markers to one that leaves these divisions behind.
“In my ideal society there is a harmony between the feminine and the masculine, the positive and the negative,” he says while describing the show. “This space doesn’t belong to any limitation.”
It’s fitting that Hourani, an artist who imagines a world with no limits, doesn’t feel the need to contain his expression to just one medium. Though Montrealers may be most familiar with his ready-to-wear collections, Hourani has exhibited his photography, multimedia works and installations in galleries around the world in places like Paris, Arnhem, Hong Kong, Dubai and Beijing.
“I started doing photography and video before creating clothes,” Hourani says. “I don’t find one medium more difficult than another, I find them all to be of the same complexity. I think of the idea first and then will choose the perfect medium to express it in—It depends on what I feel like expressing at the moment. My brain process is quite organic in terms of artwork creations.”
For Hourani, producing contemporary artworks apart from garment design helps to provide some balance for the competitive and fast-paced fashion world as well as providing more flexibility in how to communicate ideas. “To do contemporary art today is exactly what I needed to express myself in other fields,” Hourani says. “You don’t need nine or ten collections per year, it’s way too much.
“I find that art can give that freedom of conceptualizing something and communicating it in different aspects, whereas clothes are more about utility,” Hourani continues. “I can’t express myself enough in clothing, so that’s why I’m using other treatments. I feel so free to be able to express my vision without any limitation on how I can express it.”
Taking a walk through Hourani’s Neutrality exhibition and you’ll see a collection of pieces that do a good job of visually representing the ideas Hourani is passionate about—ideas that he’s able to actively put into practice through his clothing label, by creating gender neutral garments (and being the first designer to present a unisex haute couture collection in Paris in 2013) that are made in Canada where standards for labour and environmental considerations are higher than in the overseas free trade zones where most of our clothing is made.
“I was always about creating things for a lifestyle that’s not just about consuming and about speed and disposable things,” Hourani explains. “I like things that you can keep over time. For me that’s a very important point, and also related to nature. That’s also why I produce everything in Canada, because I want to know who does my clothes, how it’s made, and where the money I’m investing goes.
“The clothes and the art are 100 per cent connected. I can’t create a human body with clothes, but I can put the senses on screen, so it’s all related.” ■
Rad Hourani’s Neutrality is on view at Arsenal (2020 William) until Jan. 17, 2016. Admission is $10, or free during Arsenal’s Mardis Culturels (Tuesdays 6–9 p.m.)