Through the years, the fashion industry has witnessed the success of two wildly-creative individuals collaborating to create a signature look embraced by customers everywhere. There are Dolce and Gabbana, Viktor and Rolf, the men behind Proenza Schouler, and Badgley Mischka, among others. Despite the feats and milestones, they’ve reached, however, none captures the zeitgeist of the current times quite like Dean and Dan Caten of DSquared2. This electric design duo designs for the now, encapsulating all that is hot and trendy for today’s consumers. While they have faced some of the harshest criticisms from the industry’s most discriminating press, their courage against them knows no bounds.
The Twins Behind Dsquared2
The designer twins were born on December 19, 1964, after seven older siblings, in Toronto, Canada but grew up in Willowdale. They are half-Italian, courtesy of their father who came from a small town in Ciociaria, Italy called Casalvieri. Having grown up with a passion for fashion, they moved to New York City in 1983 to study fashion design in the prestigious Parsons School of Design. They finished one summer semester before going back to their native Toronto to start their first signature womenswear collection called DEanDan, in 1986. Not long after, in 1988, they were hired by a bigger label called Ports International, (now Ports 1961), as creative directors to make the brand more upscale and fashion forward.
In 1991, they moved to Milan to make it big in fashion. At that time, they worked under Gianni Versace, who was one of the most prominent fashion designers in the entire industry during the 1990’s. After that, they moved to denim-label Diesel, who later financially-backed and helped launch the twins’ namesake brand. However, their rise to this point was far from a walk in the park. Aside from their designing jobs, the twins also worked in public relations and as fashion stylists for a number of clients. They even went as far as to become go-go dancers in various Milan nightclubs, becoming a big part of the nightlife scene in the city. Despite having had a career of that nature, the twins confessed that they were proud of that period in their lives and that those odd jobs helped fund their first collection.
The Controversy & Rise of Dsquared2
They debuted their first menswear collection in 1994, consisting of 30 pieces of Canadian-inspired clothing, from big wool coats to plaid shirts and sweaters. It was set against a forest-like backdrop with opera music playing as the models walked on the runway. The show was met with commendable praise and some were even ordered by various retail companies. Almost a decade later, in 2003, they launched their womenswear line and mens’ underwear line, both under their new and current name, DSquared2. That same year, the duo was awarded the GQ Men of The Year Breakout Design award.
Since then, their brand has met commercial success, despite some hard criticisms from fashion editors and writers at times. One of the most often criticisms regarding their work is that their shows are no more than just gimmicks to attract attention through mainstream celebrities, with no real fashion design value injected. Similarly to many designers during the 90’s and early 2000’s, the Caten twins have become celebrities in their own right, especially due to their friendships with pop stars like Madonna, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake.
Among their superstar friends, Madonna was one of the first to bring their brand on the map. She commissioned the twins to design costumes for her “Don’t Tell” music video in 2000 as well as over 150 showpieces for her Drowned World Tour in 2001. In 2009, Britney Spears wore their design in her world tour The Circus starring Britney Spears. They themselves have even been featured in various media, such as the hit reality show America’s Next Top Model and Fergie’s music video for “Glamorous”.
With the help of celebrity attention, their brand was able to open their first flagship store in Milan in June 2007, as well as another in London in March 2015. Since then, they’ve also opened stores in various locations, such as Cannes, Singapore, Paris, Istanbul, and Los Angeles.
Most of the time, their look is decidedly urban, featuring caps, puffer jackets, sneakers, and a whole lot of denim. They also often centre around a theme, from classic Americana, tropical nature, and vintage resort. They even installed a working fake waterfall as the backdrop for their Spring 2014 menswear show. For Fall 2015, their collection was met with controversy over their theme inspired by Native Americans. They were accused of appropriating ancient culture as well as discriminating against Native American women with the title of the collection, “DSquaw”, as squaw is a derogatory term for them. In response, the twins claimed that the collection was an ode to their roots in Canada and that no offence was meant nor intended.
That same year, despite the controversy, the brothers celebrated 20 years in the industry. For their Fall 2015 men’s show in Milan, they presented a tribute collection of both men’s and womenswear, followed by a performance by Mary J Blige as the twins took their bow. It was the kind of celebration, attended by the hottest celebs, that was fitting for a pair of designing twins whose vision of urban fashion and love for mainstream pop culture have changed the game.