Canadian fashion designer Rad Hourani is a master of androgyny. Inspired by designers like Hedi Slimane, Helmut Lang and Rick Owens, Rad uses high fashion to explode the distance between male and female. During his Autumn/Winter 2009 collection, the models stroll down the catwalk in black on black on black – which is somehow always chic and fresh no matter how many times we see it. Expressionless, the models – male and female – work the catwalk in black skinny jeans, black leggings, ripped at the knees, black strips of patent leather, long black shirts that could be skirts, and they are topped off in boots with a six-inch heel. Rad doesn’t design for a specific gender, and all his pieces are wearable by either men or women.
I've always wondered why so much high fashion is androgynous, and hotter the downtown scene, the more the androgyny is celebrated. Though I can't be certain, something tells me that the guys wearing these heels live in specific neighborhoods in major fashion cities and circulate in a very particular crowd. That is, the heels come with a certain form of legibility: they are read as high fashion in the hot neighborhood, but they might be misread as "too gay" someplace else.
From Dick Hebdige to Caroline Weber to Monica Miller, scholars agree: style is a form of revolt. It is a visual protest, because to adopt a style is also to carve a space for yourself outside of the status quo. But I also think that style is empowering. A style communicates a deliberate message to others about how you want to be understood. You control your own image.
The beauty of fashion is that it's never about right now - it's about what's next, what's coming. Possibility, in other words. Rad shows that it’s possible for men to wear heels, and not only that it's possible, but it should in fact be unremarkable. What’s so brilliant about the heels, if you look closely, is that they are practically genderless. They extend the leg and elongate the body in an elegant way.
Besides, there is a long history of men in heels, from the earliest dandies to New York punk bands like the New York Dolls, who worked androgyny from every angle. Even today, a standard rock and roll look consists of an ordinary white v-neck, slim fitted dark jeans, neck chains and a pair of heels. Steven Tyler, Prince and Lenny Kravitz all wear heels. What cultural work do heels do when men wear them?
Rad's explanation of his approach to gender and fashion might help explain some of this: “I think everybody is feminine and everybody is born unisex. My clothes […] are asexual aseasonal they come from no place no time no tradition yet they could be home anywhere anytime […] Sophisticated modern classics for anti-conformist individuals.”
There is a formalist beauty in his description. Indeed, Rad Hourani’s clothes are formalist in the sense that they have no connection to the outside world. They are timeless placeless genderless for people willing to take risks. Style, in other words, offers the potential to turn fashion risks into political gestures.