The 20th anniversary of their Dsquared2 fashion brand isn’t the only thing Dean and Dan Caten are celebrating: the designers turned 50 last December. While some might be nervous about hitting the half-century mark, for the Canadian twins, it was just another reason to throw a couple of stellar parties — a private dinner with music by star DJ David Morales at the Chalet Etoile, in Cervinia, a popular ski resort in the Italian Alps, and an extravaganza at Toronto’s Casa Loma, an early 20th-century Gothic Revival mansion.
This is the sort of thing that defines the Caten twins — the kind of glossy, happy, somewhat wild lifestyle they both live and sell to the world through their glamorous fashion collections. There is nothing accidental about it: this is the path the identical twins, raised in the Willowdale suburb of Toronto, intentionally picked for themselves when they moved to Italy in 1991 to seek their fortune on the European fashion scene.
Dean and Dan are the youngest of nine children, born to an English mother and an Italian father, whose decision to shorten the family name from Catenacci to Caten mirrored that of scores of immigrants before him.
“He knows me, I know him. We understand each other,” said Dan, explaining the natural affinity he shares with his brother. The twins don’t just work together, sharing the same desk in their hyper-chic office in the Dsquared2 building on Milan’s Via Ceresio; they also live together in London, hang out together, go on vacation together: they are very much the idiomatic two peas in a pod.
They have no specific roles, either, when it comes to designing a collection, approving a business plan or devising a new campaign. “We both feel if something works or not,” Dean said.
The twins left Willowdale at 19 to attend Parsons The New School for Design in New York, but dropped out after only a semester and went back to Canada, where they joined fashion label Ports International as junior designers. They spent six years there, eventually becoming head designers. At that point, they decided to make the big jump, and, returning to their Italian roots, they crossed the ocean and settled in Milan, where they began developing their own fashion label in a garage on Via Burlamacchi, in the city’s Porta Romana district.
“When it was too cold there, we used to move into the kitchen of our apartment,” Dan said.
Strongly believing in the innovative power of their project, in 1995 they presented their first men’s collection, and the following season they were already showing the “Homesick Canada” collection on the Milanese men’s catwalks.
In contrast to Milan’s core sartorial classicism, Dsquared2 collections offered a new, luxurious take on denim and casualwear, with a fresh, irreverent vibe that stemmed from the label’s two cheerful, eccentric designers.
“Our father never let us wear jeans. He used to say, ‘Poor people wear jeans, and you are not poor,’ ” Dean said. “Denim, for us, is an element that blends things together.”
Just when their popularity was starting to grow, Dean and Dan met a man who was to have a huge impact on the future of their business: Renzo Rosso. In 2002, the Caten twins inked a licensing agreement with Rosso’s Staff International, which still manufactures the brand’s collections. The entrepreneur gave the designers the financial and productive support to launch the Dsquared2 women’s line in 2003.
The Catens made their women’s debut during the Milan women’s fashion week with the “Star 24/7” fall collection, presented with a spectacular show in which models, wearing hoods, denim pants and minidresses (all infused with a va-va-voom sexy attitude), emerged from a big pink airplane before striding down the catwalk.
The tone of Dsquared2’s future shows was set. More than a runway, more than an occasion to present new collections, the Caten brothers’ shows are always large-scale events or quasi-theme parties, where the inspiration running through the lineup is evident to all from the moment one sets foot in the venue.
“We always want to make our message complete. We always try to make our show look like a story,” said Dan, noting that once they choose a theme, he and his brother build on it the way a director builds on a movie concept, trying to find the most appropriate location, soundtrack and props.
The designers have re-created a wide range of cinematic sets over the seasons. For example, in September 2011, they celebrated the influence of music festivals — particularly Glastonbury — on the fashion industry, setting up a festival tent with a stage and a camper van, while models walked on a catwalk caked with mud.
This irreverent approach also earned some ferocious criticism. In February 2012, for instance, the designers sent out models in chic and preppy Sixties-inspired outfits — with cigarettes. Model and actor Rick Genest — aka Zombie Boy, famous for the tattoos completely covering his body — was also smoking in the front row.
“We did apologize,” said Dan. “That was too much.”
At any rate, taking a walk on the wild side is part of Dsquared2’s philosophy, rooted, say the designers, in a very specific set of values: “Sexy, cool, relaxed, different, accidentally chic and individual,” said Dean, describing the label’s aesthetic.
“And contrasting,” Dan added. “Having a contrast with the world is really Dsquared2.”
This strong sense of individuality is one of the key elements that made the brand especially successful among musicians. Over the years, the twins have dressed quite a cadre of international artists, including Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Michael Bublé, the Tokio Hotel band and Rihanna, who walked the brand’s spring 2008 show, among others.
While the Caten twins’ fun and unconventional take on glamour is still a hallmark of the brand’s collections, they have also evolved, losing the evident street connotations of their early years and moving toward a sophisticated, luxurious style. For example, Dsquared2 is making a big push in men’s tailoring, offering different suit and tuxedo fits, festively named after jet-set destinations such as Miami, Capri, London and Paris, and more.
The fashion house is also extending its brand identity through a rapidly growing collection of bags and shoes, a children’s wear line produced by Rosso’s Brave Kid and a range of licenses managed by high-end manufacturers, including Marcolin for eyewear, ICR-ITF for fragrances and Isa for underwear and swimwear.
Concurrent with Milan men’s fashion week, which Dsquared2 will open with a special anniversary-themed show tonight at the Hangar Bicocca exhibition space, the label will also christen a store in the city’s Porta Nuova district.
“This is going to be a concept store where we can give visibility to a certain kind of product,” Dan said. “It’s a different concept for us. We like to work on new things. It’s exciting, it’s different — it’s a turning point.”
D2 Fast Facts
150: Outfits designed for Madonna and her dancers for the 2001 “Drowned World” tour and for the music video “Don’t Tell Me.”
17,000: Number of timber chocks used to create the Milan flagship.
10: Looks created for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
984 feet: The distance each of the Caten brothers ran during the Olympic torch relay.
100: Number of seats at the Ceresio 7 restaurant.
240: Types of wine available at Ceresio 7.
5: Number of honors and awards received for their work in Canada.
1,000: Guests at the Wild party to celebrate the opening of Dsquared2’s Mykonos boutique in August.
140: Relatives invited to the Catens’ Christmas party at Casa Loma.
26 years: The duration of the license with Staff International.