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July 30 2014

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Backstage Before the Show With Dsquared²’s Dan Caten

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dsquaredblog1As Dsquared² approaches its 20th anniversary, it’s apparent that Dean and Dan Caten are enjoying the success of the brand they built. On the eve of their Spring/Summer 2015 runway show, the Dsquared² studio in Milan is not a frantic madhouse of last-minute fittings and collection edits. In the large room in the refurbished warehouse where the brand (and the restaurant/nightclub they own) is based, racks of clothing organized into looks line the walls, shoes are in a neat row on the floor, bags and accessories are laid out neatly on tables. Dan Caten seems relaxed. He’s enjoying a cup of tea and a croissant. The soundtrack for tomorrow’s show is playing on the sound system, a mix he and his brother created that starts with a line from the film Factory Girl. Things are surprisingly calm. Not the scene you’d expect less than twenty-four hours away from the show. But Dsquared² isn’t quite like other brands. They don’t quite fit in with their fashion cohorts in Milan, but that’s fine with them. They like it that way. We caught up with Dan (with an appearance from Dean) to chat about the new collection, the scene in Milan, and the brand’s global expansion.

Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration for the new collection?

It’s the art world. It’s the studio—the New York studio. References from Andy Warhol, Basquiat, Keith Haring, Stephen Sprouse. So it starts in the sixties and the early Andy days, and then it kind of evolves through to the 1980s.

When you say “studio,” do you imagine these as the guys who work in the studio as artists?

Well, it’s just to put them in a place. We kind of said, “OK, they’re living in a New York loft and maybe he’s a painter or maybe it’s his art studio.” Andy’s Factory or whatever.

But more casual than a gallery.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, it’s dirty and messy. It’s got skylights and it’s got paint on the floor and lots of paintings everywhere. Yeah. A bit real.

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Your retail business is growing rapidly. What are your expansion plans for the stores?

We’re really pushing retail, especially in America. We’re opening three stores this year: our flagship in New York, which is in Soho; Los Angeles, we’re doing Rodeo Drive; and we’re doing one in Miami and Bal Harbour. They should be all up and running before December.

How many are there worldwide?

About thirty-two, I think now. But this is our first big push for America because we’re not in America at all. You’ll be seeing more of us in America soon.

What’s the importance of that for you?

Well, it’s a big market that doesn’t really know who we are or what our brand is about. It’s a weird thing because on our online store, the biggest customers are Americans, and it’s really weird. And that’s why we said, “Fuck, obviously we’re missing a market here because the biggest percentage of people who are buying online are Americans from Los Angeles.” It’s actually really good information—you understand a lot about your clients and what they want, and you can see what they’re buying. And actually, it’s what kind of gave us a kick in the ass to say, “OK, we better get on it.”

What cities are most interesting to you?

L.A. is where we have the most shoppers online, so that was one of the boosts for L.A. And then we got a really great space right beside Saint Laurent on Rodeo Drive—it’s actually going to be really cool. And it’s interesting because we’re kind of modifying our concepts for the stores, so as we’re maturing, the concepts are kind of maturing—they’re getting a little lighter, a little cleaner. Keeping up to date, I think. And they’re nice. So all the American stores are going to have a kind of different look. We just opened a store also in Mykonos and in Porto Cervo, so those are our two summer stores, and they’re lighter as well and they’re nice.

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Are there things you’ll do specifically for an American market?

We do a different buy for each store. I mean, L.A.’s different from New York. We will do special things because we’re doing special things for other boutiques. Like Mykonos—we did some swimwear and some bags and different stuff for those markets. So probably for sure, something in New York. It’s always cute when you get something that you can only get in New York or only get in L.A. It’s kind of novel.

Especially for your customers, who are probably loyal to your brand and they also travel.

We did a silly Mykonos boxer-short bathing suit. They had a hundred and they sold them all in, like, two months.

Everyone’s talking about Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong. Is the Asian market important to your business right now?

Yeah. We actually opened up a new store in Hong Kong. We have two stores in Hong Kong now. We opened a brand-new store in Shanghai which is beautiful. We actually closed at Shanghai fashion week because the government invited us there, so it was kind of a push to promote the brand in China. I think we have seven stores in China already now and we have three partners and we’re going strong to get more. We have a definite plan. It’s just good for us. Tokyo, we actually have two really nice big stores. China seems to be the place where everybody’s nesting.

Does the restaurant business continue to interest you guys? How’s that going?

It’s going really, really well. Really, really well. It’s kind of like a cool place to be. The food’s great, the ambience is great. It’s very different from here, and I think that’s why it’s working. It’s not so “Milan.” It’s got a really international flavor, and I think that’s what’s cool about it. And it’s also like you can go and be seen—it’s quite cozy the way we designed it, also. Everything’s kind of in a booth. You have your individual space, your area, but you can always see who’s walking through or who’s coming in, so it’s kind of got that scene thing, which we love. It’s kind of like a fashion show—you see everyone walk by. The chef’s great, our partner’s great We got a lot of requests to do them in other places, so we’ll see. Maybe in New York. That could be like another business.

dsquaredblog4Milan has a reputation for being a bit staid, and you guys are obviously known to have one of the more fun shows. Do you think Milan needs to get with it?

I kind of like standing out here. We don’t really fit in so well, and it’s kind of a plus for us. I think we give something different to this fashion. Everybody [does theirs] in their way, and we do ours our own way. We go to the left when they go to the right. I don’t know.

What do you guys love about Milan more generally?

It’s a great city. It’s a good fashion week, especially for men. I love it. It’s a little hometown-y sometimes because it’s not really a big city. That’s why we live in London and we just come here back and forth and it gives us a little bit of an escape. It’s good for work, it’s good for shows, and it’s good for selling.

Other than working, what are your other summer plans?

We go back to Canada on the 26th. We see family. Then we’ll go probably to Greece to go to a promotion for our Greek store and stay there for the summer.

Is going back to Canada a way to get away from fashion and decompress?

No, actually, it’s more work. We’re organizing a big Christmas dinner for our two hundred family members that we haven’t seen for, like, twenty years. Our grandparents used to do this for Christmas day—we’d all go to Grandma’s house and I’d meet my cousins, I’d meet everybody, and she died and no one does that anymore. So we kind of said, “Let’s do it. Let’s be the host and we’ll host you all.” So they’re all excited.

Getting back in touch with cousins.

What city is it in?

Toronto. Christmas day.

Is anyone else in the family in the fashion business?

No. Just the two little ones.

Well, good luck with that. That sounds more difficult than a fashion show.

Kind of the same thing. With food.

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Photo: Courtesy Dsquared²

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