CANADIAN DESIGNERS ABROAD: DEAN AND DAN CATEN

TRUE PATRIOT LOVE, DEAN AND DAN

I’LL OPEN WITH THE LAST FEW PARAGRAPHS IN THIS UP DATE ON DEAN AND DAN…

“Never say never,” says Dan.

Step by step, they add, they will make it to Canada. They’ve been getting back to Toronto more and more lately, and are closer than ever with their seven brothers and sisters. “There’s something sentimental about aging, that makes your heart bigger,” says Dan.

Despite having now spent more time outside Canada than in it, they still pine for cottage weekends and getting to Montreal, when there’s time. “What’s really important to us is where we come from, who we are and who we belong to,” says Dan. You could say they wear their nationality on their sleeves. “We identify ourselves in the fashion industry by waving our flag – and milking it in a weird way,” says Dean.

Dan: “It’s our mark. It’s who we can be – owning that and playing on that.”

HURRAY FOR OUR BOYS…READ ON

Getting out of the taxi at their home near Portobello Road, Dean pulls up the collar of his camel coat, wraps it around himself tightly and says, “We know what it’s like to be cold.”
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New Year’s has come and gone and everyone in London is exhaling after a long, busy season – not least Dan and Dean Caten. Flopped in the back of a slowmoving taxi en route to their Notting Hill home, they go over the events of the past few weeks in a stream of consciousness, finishing each other’s sentences without hesitation. In December, they had turned 50. Then, on Christmas Day, they hosted 150 Catenaccis – their very large Italian-Canadian family – at Casa Loma in Toronto.

“We completely restructured the building,” says Dan.

But “we didn’t touch the walls,” adds Dean. “We did a retrospective picture history of all the family.”

Dan: “We had 100 vintage Italian frames with old reprinted photographs,”

Dean: “ – in the beautiful oak hallway – ”

Dan: “ – with chandeliers …”

Before New Year’s Eve, they unveiled a new flagship on West Broadway in New York. And two weeks after that, the designers invited the Milanese glitterati – a Berlusconi, a Novembre, a Della Russo, even a Hilton – to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their label, DSquared2, at HangarBicocca, the cavernous modern-art gallery in Milan. Some 1,000 guests mingled over vodka cocktails amid towering Anselm Kiefer sculptures while Mary J. Blige crooned and models pranced in the designers’ signature parkas and furs.

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“The show was kind of like a progression of the brand,” says Dan. “We started off pulling out things that were really important and remade them. We opened with the No. 1 cut-off T-shirt and jeans Madonna wore, then into leather jackets, the Wild West theme, then moving forward as we matured into the world of tailoring.”

Dean: “We closed with a tailored tuxedo with Western embroidery.”

Dan: “It was very emotional. Our anniversary doesn’t just go back 20 years – this was a year we did a lot of celebrating.”

Fair enough. The boys – even at 50, I think they’d be okay with the label – have legitimately come of age after two decades in the trenches of Milan.

Not so long ago, it would have been so easy to write off the Catens as a novelty act. Identical twins, identically clothed and identically tanned, they spun an investment from Diesel’s Renzo Rosso into a collection of party clothes for a subculture of wealthy ravers and queens. They were always a bit outré for most – even deep into my years clubbing around Europe, I dismissed them as too Euro, too novelty, too Versace. (Indeed, more than one journalist has mistakenly ascribed their big break to an apprenticeship with Gianni himself. In fact they never worked there.)

Having briefly attended Parsons, then climbed the ladder at the Toronto label Ports, they were undoubtedly skilled and fantastically hard-working. Yet they were known mostly for their naughty gestures (remember the “F*cking Cold” fur caps?), for putting denim on the catwalk and for their celeb endorsements. In 2002, they dressed Madonna for her Drowned World Tour, thereafter launching a women’s-wear line. And in 2008, Rihanna opened their show in a muscle car and a black slip dress.

As recently as 2011, Tim Blanks wrote on Style.com that “Dean and Dan Caten are 21st-century vaudevillians, incapable of presenting a new collection without couching it in a saucy variety show … At this stage in the Catens’ career, what they do shouldn’t be so overshadowed by how they do it.”

Whether or not they took their friend’s words to heart, the twins have, by their own admission, done some growing up. “After 20 years of experience, I think we’ve mastered our craft,” says Dan. “Now we have great tailors and factories who know what our cut is, our feel and finishing. Even with T-shirts and denim – we’ve improved them a lot.”

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“Our own needs are much different today – less clubby,” adds Dean. “As we’ve matured and started getting tailored, with events in the evening, so have our clothes.”

Those men’s embroidered tuxedos shown at HangarBicocca for fall/winter 2015 were awards-season-anointed – a sophisticated foil to their pop-tastic spring 2015 men’s-wear collection. And their women’s wear has mellowed just enough to let their flattering silhouettes and luscious colour stand up, without the bling and the boobs and the wordy tees. With their spring/summer women’s-wear collection, I’d say they’ve out-patterned Prada, out-Célined Céline. Bikinis, hot pants and crop tops aside, DSquared2 has finally infiltrated the dreams of even this middle-aged, middle-class mother, with deft beadwork and brave colour-blocking on rich, tactile fabrics. The only gimmick remaining on the spring runway was the range of thick black-framed glasses the models wore in homage to the ringmasters.

None of this is to say that the Catens have gotten the glitter out of their systems entirely. The Day-Glo camouflage blazers they wore to take their bow at the spring men’s-wear show can attest to that. But when most people think of DSquared2, they think of the parka that launched a thousand parkas or the flawlessly washed jean. When I ask them about their legacy, Dan’s reply comes fast: “Straightforward fashion, perfected. Cool, cut well and shaped well.”

Dean: “Casual.”

Dan: “The things that people wear all the time and take for granted.”

Dean: “Getting a great fit on a T-shirt.”

Dan: “Wax hunting jackets with jeans and tweed. We love the mash-up world, the mash-up of tailoring with casual.”

Dean: “People can get it wrong a lot of the time.”

Because they’re their own best customers, the Catens are constantly tweaking, perfecting things as they go along. “We love a beautiful white shirt and a pair of jeans, men’s tailored coats,” says Dean. “That’s our look – boots, camel coat, white shirt, cardigan.”

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Then they look down at themselves, notice they’re both wearing exactly that and burst into giggles.

They do make it look easy, this designing gambit. But the mistake would be to equate “fun” with “easy.” They have plenty of the former, with little of the latter. “Our father once said, ‘When someone makes something look easy, they’re perfecting it,’” says Dean.

Dan: “Like a ballerina – looking like a feather.”

Dean: “There’s a lot behind the twirling.”

By all accounts, the brothers work constantly and have done so since they began at Ports. After moving to Milan in 1991, they put all their savings into building their first collection – only for the showroom that had ordered it to pull out. So they rented a truck and hauled it to a trade show in Paris. “We sold half a million dollars in four days,” says Dan. “If we’d been stuck in that showroom, we probably wouldn’t be here today.”

Luck has had nothing to do with it, he says. “Milan is very hard to penetrate and nobody’s opening any doors for you. Sometimes designers get lost in the shuffle because it’s hard to create an identity, but we were dedicated, we stuck to our guns.”

“We’re control freaks,” says Dean.

Their first flagship in Milan, a 5,400-square-footer opened in 2007 on Via Pietro Verri, was, they say, “a groundbreaker” for the brand. They swiftly rolled out monobrand boutiques in Capri, Istanbul, Kiev, Hong Kong, Cannes, Moscow, Dubai and Singapore. Not until they opened a massive headquarters on Milan’s Via Ceresio, with two rooftop pools and a restaurant, did they turn their attention to North America.

“America was one of our weakest audiences,” says Dan. “I don’t think they weren’t interested, I think it just wasn’t available. So now we’re making it available.”

Dean: “I think now we’re ready for the big leagues.”

Dan: “We’ve figured a lot of stuff out.”

They have also learned that their biggest online sales came not from Hong Kong or London, but from Los Angeles.

“We said, ‘Listen, there’s a void,’ ” Dan says.

In September, they opened their first American stand-alone space on Rodeo Drive, a 4,500-square-foot space with 30– foot ceilings and moose antlers on the walls. Bal Harbour, in Florida, opened earlier this month. There is also talk that, after 20 years, DSquared2 may bid ciao to Milan Fashion Week. With the pair now living in London and headquartered on Savile Row, they say that showing during that city’s fashion week would make perfect sense.

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What about New York?

“Never say never,” says Dan.

Step by step, they add, they will make it to Canada. They’ve been getting back to Toronto more and more lately, and are closer than ever with their seven brothers and sisters. “There’s something sentimental about aging, that makes your heart bigger,” says Dan.

Despite having now spent more time outside Canada than in it, they still pine for cottage weekends and getting to Montreal, when there’s time. “What’s really important to us is where we come from, who we are and who we belong to,” says Dan. You could say they wear their nationality on their sleeves. “We identify ourselves in the fashion industry by waving our flag – and milking it in a weird way,” says Dean.

Dan: “It’s our mark. It’s who we can be – owning that and playing on that.”

Getting out of the taxi at their home near Portobello Road, Dean pulls up the collar of his camel coat, wraps it around himself tightly and says, “We know what it’s like to be cold.”

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