We kept missing each other for years.
First, Dean and Dan Caten became “regulars” on the fashion scene in Dubai, where I was working for almost a decade. However, their appearances in the Middle East only turned frequent after I moved to Canada. One after another, I watched most of my former journalism colleagues interview the celebrated twins, thinking I should have extended my stay there by a mere six months.
Then, there was this one time on Bloor Street in Toronto, just before Christmas a few years ago. I was walking alone in Yorkville in early evening, trying to brace the bone-chilling wind. Staring at the window displays and texting a friend, my mind was definitely elsewhere. At one point, my gaze slowly travelled to the street, and I suddenly saw Dean and Dan walk past me with a friend. They were both wearing their famous bomber jackets and I mindlessly stared at their clothes, without realizing who was wearing them. By the time it hit me, the twins were gone.
Fast-forward to February 2014. The DSQUARED2 duo came back to Toronto after being nominated for the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards. While preparing for the interview and doing a lot of research, I noticed that everybody always called them “the nice designers.” Their reputation of being down-to-earth made them likeable by fans and journalists alike.
On the day of the awards, we met for an interview at One Restaurant, which quickly developed into a lunch with Dean convincing me to join him and try his favourite Lobster Spoons and champagne, while the brothers excitedly talked about their work and inspiration. When they found out it was my birthday that week, Dean immediately knew my zodiac sign and they both took turns wishing me a happy birthday.
Our interview turned into an informal chat, with the twins being completely in-sync, finishing each other’s ideas and sentences. Here is what we talked about.
HANNAH YAKOBI: So, we are featuring you in our art issue. This will be the cover story, and I’m really interested to know how you mix different pieces of art in your work: for example, in Behind The Mirror, as well as in your music and modeling projects. Could you tell me a little bit more about that?
DEAN CATEN: (giggles) Normally, we are really good at speaking about ourselves. I’m nervous today, I don’t know why!
HANNAH: Don’t worry, I don’t bite.
DEAN: (giggling) I know I will just say something tonight, I’m so nervous!
DAN CATEN: I mean, I guess some things become an art form, like that project about the mirror kind of turned into this art thing because it was different. I think what we do is just creative, we enjoy [it]. The whole thing about working with themes is we have a place to start, you know.
DEAN: It’s a point of departure and then we just paint the picture.
DAN: From music to set to feeling, you know: the whole show has become the theme of the collection, so that helps us just paint a story and tell a story. It’s fun for us.
They kind of become little mini movie-ettes. We take you on a trip and we take you some place for 12 minutes. We get into our head where we are at that moment, and we kind of complete the message with the clothing, the set, the scene, the sound. That’s what we kind of do as artists, I think.
HANNAH: I know that you like to challenge yourselves, so what was it like designing the clothing for Juventus’ team?
DAN: It wasn’t hard. They have good bodies. (everyone laughs)
DAN: They are athletes. They are well-built.
DEAN: That was an easy one.
DAN: Athletes are fun to do: the problem is maybe they have big legs, so we actually did some different fits that were an athletic fit. We had different fits in our suits, and actually when we started developing our classic collection we had one suit that’s kind of for that sporty guy.
HANNAH: What about the detailing? You like to use zippers, clasps and such. Was that challenging in some way?
DAN: Well, I think with menswear, shapes and forms are the garment.
DEAN: And construction and detail.
DAN: That’s what makes it fun. You take something that’s very understandable and you put it in a strong colour, or kind of play with contours but not too much. If the style was already weird, we wouldn’t do it in a strange pattern. Maybe something really classic in a different pattern or a different colour, and then add some details in a small little way that will give a little kick to something.
I think we are getting more refined as we are growing older. It’s a lot about the volumes, and the shapes are all becoming really important. So you can start with a silhouette, and that’s telling a message on its own, and then you add materials and finishings and colour. There’s lots to play with.
HANNAH: I read somewhere that you always have a maple leaf somehow integrated into your collections. How do you incorporate the Canadian influence into your work?
DEAN: Yeah, it’s there.
DAN: Mhm, even if it’s not the maple leaf. If it’s broken down into certain prints. I mean, we did the beautiful Canadian silk print…with blue jays and the birds. It was cute [and] it had ‘Toronto’ written on it. It was whimsical.
And then we did some big mountains and mohair—and it became a little bit wild again. We kind of keep to our roots as some points of inspiration, and to always remind ourselves where we come from and why we are different from others.
So there is always a little bit of Canada inside, it’s always a little nod to home.
HANNAH: What about being home tonight for the awards? When you found out you were nominated, who was the first person you called or texted?
DAN: Well, actually our sisters called us! (Dean and Dan laugh)
HANNAH: Your sisters called you?
DAN: Our sisters called us before we even knew, we were in the office!
HANNAH: All of them called?
DAN: Well, the two closest to us. My one sister has her Google Alerts, and she calls us, and is like our biggest fan.
So she buzzed me up and was like, ‘Did you know you were nominated?’ And I said, ‘I didn’t know.’
I called the press office and was like, ‘Did you know we were nominated?’ And they were like, ‘Nope, we haven’t seen anything yet.’
So that’s how funny it is! And then the e-mail came and I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess we are!’
HANNAH: Are your sisters in Canada?
DAN: Yeah, they all will be there tonight.
[Editor’s note: In reference to CAFA. The twins ended up winning two awards that night.]
HANNAH: What are their names?
DEAN: We have five sisters: so it’s Paula, Linda, Angie, Cathy and Nathalie.
HANNAH: And who were the ones who called?
DAN: Nathalie and Cathy. Nathalie is like our number one fan. They’re the two closest to our age, who are the last in the bunch. We also have two brothers.
HANNAH: What about working together—what is that like?
DEAN: As twins, it’s a given, it’s normal. We’ve done everything our whole lives together.
DAN: We’re meant to work together.
HANNAH: Could you tell me a little bit more about your fall/winter collection? I saw that the men’s was really influenced by prisons and mental health institutions. How did the idea come together?
DAN: It started with the pre-collection and we had this big orange thing and it was kind of like the murder, prison colour. And so it kind of evolved—we wanted to take it through to correctional institutes and maybe even to mental institutions.
DEAN: It’s just crazy for fashion.
DAN: Yes, and I mean those places have a lot of inspiration to pull from, even as far as colours and shapes go. It was supposed to be like an asylum-meets-penitentiary all together, and we just played and juggled things.
DEAN: Correctional was the key word.
DAN: We are always searching for themes.
DEAN: And we hadn’t done that one.
DAN: Right, we hadn’t done this and it’s kind of got a sexy element to it.
DEAN: And there are characters you can have too: lawyers, priests.
HANNAH: I guess my last question to both of you is—if you had to give advice to Canadian designers who wanted to break into the international market, from your experience, what do you think are some of the key elements that they have to be aware of?
DAN: The most important element is to find out who you are and to be true to your roots. Be true to what you want to do. A lot of the time I think designers get really confused with not knowing what to do, and with ‘this isn’t trendy now’ [versus] ‘this is.’
Do what you like, and stay with what you are.
DEAN: I think the key thing is we’re our own customers, so we do what we want.
HANNAH: And you’re wearing your own line.
DEAN: Yeah, that’s the thing.
DAN: Don’t try to be something that you’re not or do something because other people are doing it—that means it’s there, so try to do something that you feel comes from your heart, and then if you really believe in it, it will come together.
Don’t give up too quick. Be really persistent. I mean, that’s the best advice because a lot of people just get confused. So many people just told us what to do and what not to do. If we had listened to all of them, we wouldn’t be here.
We are really lucky because we have each other and we feel like we’re strong enough. We’re two people, so maybe when you’re just by yourself you want to believe somebody else. Don’t.
Video courtesy of DSQUARED2.