Dsquared2: The Caten twins on a quarter-century of dressing sporting stars and superheroes
Jan 9, 2020
Dean and Dan Caten, the most successful foreigners in Italian fashion, celebrate the 25th anniversary of their fashion house on Friday night in Milan. We got their inside take on a most remarkable immigrant career in European fashion.
This Friday, the duo of Dean and Dan Caten, better known as Dsquared2, will celebrate their 25th anniversary when they kick off the Milan menswear season with a mammoth show and fete in the Italian fashion capital.
The evening will be the latest apex of a brilliant career for the Canadian-born immigrant brothers who, in a quarter century in Italy, have established themselves as the greatest foreign success story in Italian fashion. Bar none.
Working their oeuvre of approachable, pop-influenced, optimistic fashion, Dean and Dan – as they are universally known – have built Dsquared2 into a brand that punctured the quarter-billion-euro mark last year. Their instantly recognizable style has also won them a huge following among the Gotha of rock stars – from dressing Madonna in her iconic western video clip, Don’t Tell Me, to attiring Beyoncé for her Super Bowl performance. The duo also has impressive range; carving out a unique niche for themselves in football fashion – where they currently dress the two-time English Premiership Champions Manchester City.
So, we sat down with the twins in their heart of their style barony, to learn how they have managed to create a global brand, dressing the musical Gotha and a series of champion athletes while still having a lot of fun.
“Yes, it is going to be 25 years and we're still standing,” says Dan.
“Still kicking, and jumping. Sometimes your dreams do come true,” adds Dean, finishing off his brother’s sentence as they do every seemingly second phrase.
“We’ve certainly maintained momentum, all the way to our restaurant, our pools and now our gym,” notes Dan over lunch in Ceresio 7, a handsome former electricity company building that is Dsquared2’s global headquarters. Opened in 2009, it now includes a sleek restaurant, with two snazzy pools at either end, and a high-tech basement gym and spa.
“Ceresio 7 is about introducing a lifestyle,” says Dan; “and making a statement that we are established!” smiles Dean.
“As we matured, the brand matured. It developed more tailoring and became more adventurous and sophisticated,” argues Dean; “Though we still have a lot of fun at the pool in summer!” insists Dan.
It’s practically impossible in Milan to find a chic location to have a lunch around a pool among elegant people, which is something that Ceresio 7 delivers, with its fine views over the ever-changing Milan skyline and distant snow-capped Alps. It’s like LA in Lombardy.
“When you do something that’s in your hearts then people respond,” notes of Dean of the immensely popular club.
Asked to define their DNA, they respond: “Straightforward, honest options. Real clothes for real people. Taking you from A to Z from babies to after midnight.”
The Catens were born back in December 1964 in Canada, a country which continually inspires their fashion. Their mother was English and their father was from Casalvieri, a small hilltop town north of Naples and south of Rome.
“We didn’t really speak Italian at home. We had a little bit of trouble growing up… racism. Sometimes it was hard even to walk the streets. Dad did not want his kids to be harassed so we shortened our names from Catenaccio,” recalls Dean of their youth.
They grew up in Willowdale, a neighborhood of Toronto, though bizarrely the town’s Wikipedia page doesn’t list them as noted citizens, even if they are its most famous former residents. “It doesn’t?” says a surprised Dan, before Dean jokes, “and we’re the most famous people in Canada!”
“Willowdale has always been an open door. When we grew up it was Pakistanis arriving. Now it’s more Chinese. Everyone had their turn to be picked on,” shrugs Dean.
Did that give them an extra drive to succeed? “I think being poor gave us an extra drive to succeed!” laughs Dan.
In a very real sense, their father came to Canada to become someone, and they took the journey back to do the same thing. The twins have five sisters and two brothers, several of whom joined them when they were given the keys to Casalvieri by the mayor in 2017. The same year Dsquared2 launched a Be Cool Be Nice capsule collection in support of the anti-cyber-bullying movement.
At the age of 20 they had already decided to one day start their own company, and as a first step they worked for a fashion company in Canada called Ports, owned by their mentor, a Japanese gent known as Luc Tanabe, who told them: “You cannot teach good taste in high school.”
By 1991, aged 26, they sold most of their positions and flew to Milano at the height of the Linda, Naomi and Cindy supermodel era, hustling their way into shows.
“We knew we had to do this together. We worked in fashion together, and we’d worked as waiters and golf caddies together, getting $15 a round. Not that we knew anything about golf. ‘A sand wedge is a golf club you idiot, and not sandwich!’” screamed one client, they recall with glee.
After a few years of freelance work, they found a small factory and debuted their first collection in 1994, named Homesick Canada, with men in underwear and lumberjack coats, a sexy romp shown in tiny showroom, covered in ferns.
“I remember it was Maple Leaf, Mapplethorpe and Maple syrup! ˝ cackles Dean.
Their third collection hit the runway, their first mega hit, a Back to Napoli collection in June 1997, with a mock Neapolitan setting in which the first women’s look appeared. It came just after dressing Madonna, providing them their first women’s looks and leading to a cover of Women’s Wear Daily, the then-industry bible. Madonna had picked up a leather version of a men’s cowboy shirt and mud-splashed pants seen in the iconic, Jean-Baptiste Mondino-directed Don’t Tell Me video clip.
They went on to dress the entire finale of Madonna’s Drowned World Tour. “And, Madonna told us, I need them in… two days. And when we said how? She said, get on a plane, and we got on a plane. But don’t make it sounds bitchy because it wasn’t. It was her comeback tour, she just had a baby, and she was nervous,” they recall.
They have also done videos with The Black Eyes Peas, and tours with Britney Spears; kitted out Jennifer Lopez for the American Music Awards and, of course, Beyoncé. The superstar bravely paying homage to the Black Panther movement, in a radical political statement at Super Bowl 50 in 2016 when she and her dance troupe dressed in black berets and leather jackets, with Beyoncé featuring a bandolier of ammunition. Climaxing by giving the black power salute made famous by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.
“Beyoncé called two days before and said she had lost a few pieces in the rehearsal, so we said we’d send over a few more bullets,” Dean recalls. “Before she asked us to make an exact same one for her baby Blue!”
The boys plan to use many of these iconic images for anniversary show, which will feature one of their legendary high-tempo dance parties.
“We love music, shows and performances. It’s in our blood. At the beginning we were really, really starstruck with Madonna. But then we realized they are just people, and we were really, really normal with them and that was the easiest thing to do. And maybe they are lonely just for people to talk to them,” stresses Dan. “Plus we know what’s important is the shape and the silhouette. Two hundred yards away you don’t see the crystals but you do the shape. Madonna taught us that. And to always try to get the opening look,” argues Dean
Inseparable in conversation, the pair are linked on social media. Almost half their Instagram account features joint photos, a great way of connecting to their young audience.
˝We like sharing our lives. That’s our thing, ˝ explains Dan. A cool dude called Dimitri travels with them shooting videos and imagery. Two days before we met, they shot images in the New York subway. Though, like many Milan brands, they are cautious about working with influencers.
˝They have to be real people and real clients. Otherwise it can be commercial and hence damaging," sniffs Dan.
Their own official ad campaigns have been lensed by truly top-notch fashion photographers. They started with Carter Smith, then went to Mikael Jansson, then Steven Meisel but now use Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, with whom they created a mini collection.
At Yoox Net-A-Porter, the barometer fashion etailer where they have retailed for over a decade, Dsquared2 boast the highest percentage of shoppers using mobile phones.
Like good Canadians, they prefer snow to soccer, but have become experts at dressing modern football legends. Back in 2006, they started by dressing Juventus, notably Zlatan Ibrahimović, its controversial Swedish striker. "Then when he moved to Barcelona, we started doing Zlatan and Pep Guardiola at Barca too."
Plus, when Guardiola, soccer's most successful coach of the 1990s, moved to Manchester City, they began dressing the English champions. Creating a whole wardrobe for the senior team, seen in several gritty black and white videos. From urban tough black jeans, and cotton jerkins with a bold Dsquared2 logo, and boots, seen in one clip where Guardiola marches with his squad. The trim on the jerkins read, 'Manchester City DSQ2 X.'
“They are like my brothers. We are family,” intones Pep in Spanish with subtitles.
One video features Pep and four players inside the Etihad stadium, and captures the teaming rain of nearby housing estates and broken-down pubs. The second features Dean and Dan bringing the finishing touches inside the Man City dressing room – Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Raheem Sterling. All the way to tightening the tie of Leroy Sané, the German attacking star, who stands proudly in a three-piece black suit and Man City emblem brooch. They also created power parkas, classy Get Carter trench coats; crisp polo-necks and even techy looking wheelies for when City plays away.
“You have to play for Manchester City to actually wear these clothes. But it makes soccer fans want to get into to the brand. The key thing is the players like wearing our clothes. And it shows. Especially on their social media," says Dean. “We’ve seen them training, but we have not seen City play yet,” confesses Dan, who like his brother Dean is a snowboard freak. They even spent winter break boarding in the tony Italian resort Cervinia.
“We grew up in the snow and we like to be there at Christmas,” notes Dan.
The duo was invited to costume the Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies in Vancouver in 2010. And later dressed the Canadian team for the Rio Olympics where they won best-dressed country.
Success has allowed them to buy a grand, Regency, "very good bargain" mansion in Maida Vale, London. A Grade A-listed building, which they have kitted out with swish eclecticism, from Hawaiian tropical Coromandel style screens to a giant garden. In Milan, they actually live in a plush guest house in Ceresio 7. Summers are always spent in Mykonos, where they take a house and a speed boat, and sometimes even a yacht.
"Once we hired Winston Churchill's old boat. Seventy meters long with five bedrooms. We even had to be strapped into the bed when we sailed at night. The waves can be big as there is a powerful northern wind. But we have a big tough-guy crew," Dean giggles.
"We like snow, sun and fun," notes Dan, recalling a recent vacation in Rio, where they stayed in the famed Fassano Hotel, the inspiration for the Ceresio 7 rooftop.
Who are the designers they really admire? "Azzedine," they respond together, "and Saint Laurent back in the day. And Gianfranco Ferré, especially when he went to Dior, the very moment when he was genius."
Their advice to aspiring young designers? "Eat, drink and sleep fashion!" responds Dean.
A key element in their success has been working for the past 17 years with Staff International, the manufacturing arm of Renzo Rosso, the billionaire who created Diesel.
Word has it that it there has been turbulence over the years, but Rosso and the Catens seem very tight these days. They even feature Renzo in a video highlight of them with stars shown in the main elevator of Ceresio 7. The Catens have also matured as designers: several of their recent shows, from an Indigenous People collection to a high-tech sportswear fantasy show, were major league fashion statements. And, they always take their bows in identical outfits.
˝We did that because when we young we were made to dress the same. It also reinforces the fact that we are twins," stresses Dan.
Above all, Staff and its advanced facilities in the Veneto region have allowed these two very hard- working twins to realize more avant-garde conceptions while still staying commercial.
˝I think we are getting better and working with better people. We’ve been this forever so now finally we know what we like. It is a more natural process," says Dean.
˝We have been with Staff for 17 years and we remain very hands on. We go to the factory three days every second week. And we like to do everything!"
Considering they started with no money, no contacts and very little Italian it is kind of amazing how well Dean and Dan have done. In 2018, they scored a five percent rise in total sales to 240 million euros. The brand boasts 85 directly operated stores, and plans five new openings in 2020.
For their Friday show they plan a mega mashup of historic images.
˝We are celebrating past, present and future. Or today, tomorrow and what's next," exclaims Dean.
Would they ever consider selling?
˝Yes, we have had offers, but the brand is still our baby. We are not giving her up for adoption. She feels like she just passed 18. Let's see when she gets to 30!" they add, speaking together.
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