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December 12, 2017
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Source: enRoute Magazine.

Rad Hourani S/S 2013 couture.
Source: fashioning.com.

As the first Canadian designer to be invited into La Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, Jordan-born Rad Hourani is in a unique position to showcase Canadian-grown talent and unisex design. Known for his androgynous aesthetic and use of grey scale, Hourani's oeuvre side steps traditional glamour and is far from the usual couture fare.

The Birth of Unisex Couture

With his foot now firmly in the door of the international fashion circuit, Hourani's first showing during the official Paris Haute Couture Week calendar was heralded as "the birth of unisex couture." But is that really the case?

Hourani's statement to the The Daily Beast - that "it's [unisex is] something that's never been done in high end besides maybe a unisex t-shirt" - is a bit misleading. Looking at La Chambre's membership list, it's easy to spot designers who, for years, have used unisex principles in their designs: Alexander McQueen, Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto and Yves Saint Laurent, among others. What is true, however, is that Hourani is the first designer to show an entirely unisex couture line. 

Typically, designers who tap into unisex-wear also fill out their collections with feminine and masculine archetypes. Hourani's aim, on the other hand, is to tear down social constructs surrounding gender and clothing. Described by Bullett as designing "minimalist, austere, monotonal, architectural, asexual luxury creations," his work steers clear of established social norms of what clothing worn by men and women should be. In freeing himself from the confines of gender-based design, Hourani is making a socio-political statement, while being able to concentrate more on designing than on fitting into male-female social constructs. 

...designers like Hourani, Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto have breathed new life into the couture establishment.

A New Wave of Gender Consciousness

As Didier Grumbach, head of La Chambre, told the Toronto Star, Hourani "will only be able to become a permanent member of the Chambre Syndicale, and employ the 'haute couture' brand after sticking with designing couture for five years." Nevertheless, having "guest" status in fashion industry's most prestigious club still puts Hourani in the spotlight. As the only member doing wholly unisex collections, he is in a position to influence designers towards increased androgyny within their own lines. As Hourani's ideas grab the attention of ready-to-wear and streetwear designers, trickling down to more accessible brands, there may be a gradual shift in overall gender consciousness surrounding apparel. 

The End of Haute Couture, As We Know It?

Couture houses like Chanel, Giambattista Valli and Givenchy will still be at the top of their game and their associated glamour will not be disappearing anytime soon. If anything, designers like Hourani, Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto have breathed new life into the couture establishment by replacing embroidery, sequins and vivid colour palettes with angularity, draping and monochromatic grey scale. 

What is happening is that couture is undergoing a period of differentiation, expansion and growth. Where there was once a cloistered bastion of femininity and decadence, unisex designers are coming out a bit further into the commercial spotlight, making for some intriguing comparisons between designers and their creations. A roundtable with Karl Lagerfeld, Rick Owens, Riccardo Tisci and Hourani sounds wholly enlightening and entertaining.

rick owens, unisex, paris, fashion, design, avant garde, men, style, the genteel
Rick Owens unisex. Source: vinicio boutique.

Why the Lack of Menswear in Couture?

Menswear has always been relatively absent in couture, even from designers with very strong menswear lines, perhaps due to couture not being seen as heteronormative for men or the overall disinterest of the average man towards fashion.

With Hourani now a member of La Chambre, it's possible that masculine design and even menswear couture may be encouraged. Could the strength of Savile Row be seen as the masculine equivalent of men's couture? While no one can deny the craftsmanship of Savile Row, its overall positioning versus that of La Chambre is highly traditional, concerned with functionality and savoir-faire over artistry and flair. Perhaps an open dialogue between the two worlds will be possible.

The Big Picture

With independent and smaller fashion houses taking inspiration from larger entities and the haute couture set, a more vivid dialogue surrounding sexuality and social expectations has a chance of emerging. With a strong unisex presence in La Chambre, androgyny in fashion will become more visible, if not more readily accessible. While Hourani may not be the only couturier stripping gender from fashion, his entry into the forum has laid a foundation for setting this discourse in motion.

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