The Power of Two: Step Inside The World of Dsquared2
Is there a brand more defined by family than Dsquared2? Twins Dean and Dan Caten are powered by their brotherly bond. The Canadian-born pair have lived and worked together all their lives. “We are each other and we need each other,” says Dan from the beach in Cyprus, where the pair recently bought a house.
“It is everything for us. We were born like that, we live like that, and it’s kind of a given that you are in and out of the world like that,” he continues. Relaxing on his lounger in a pair of the brand’s tiny trunks (he’s the buff, athletic one, while brother Dean is slender and petite), he reflects on the fabulous Dsquared2 world the pair have built together.
From dressing Madonna to having Sister Sledge sing at their 25th-anniversary show, they have a fun-loving, flamboyant style that has earned them a huge fashion following and all the trappings that success brings. They have homes around the world, Warhols on their walls and a determination to enjoy every bit of the life they’ve worked so hard for. They’ve come a long way from their underprivileged beginnings.
Snowboarder buddies Jean Edouard Hardy and Kalle Frassy at Ceresio 7 Gym & Spa
The twins are the youngest of nine children. The large, Italian Catenacci family (the boys later shortened their name to Caten) were poor and struggled to cope with their brood. Dean and Dan – small and gay – had a particularly hard time at school. Nowadays, they campaign for anti-bullying charities such as Be Cool Be Nice, but back then they only had each other to turn to. Their habit of sleeping in the same bed comes from that time when they would cling to each other for protection and support. “School was not the easiest thing. We got picked on a lot, but we had each other and it was OK. We didn’t need any friends and, if we needed anything, we just escaped to our own little twin world and we were fine,” says Dan. Dean agrees: “Ever since we were very young, I remember that, anytime we were separated, it was difficult. We felt the need to play together, to share, to rejoice and even cry together. There are so many memories, but the feeling and the discovery of always having someone by your side, protecting you, someone who you also want to protect unconditionally, is definitely the earliest memory. It’s truly the love.”
Their twin resilience is remarkable. The childhood difficulties did not crush their spirits but only made them more determined to succeed. “We were always told we couldn’t have a lot of things and couldn’t be what we wanted to be, that we were different and we were wrong. But we said, ‘We’re going to show you. We will do it.’ We had that drive between each other. We were a force to be reckoned with. I think if I had had to do it by myself I wouldn’t have been as successful,” says Dan.
Dean and Dan’s trainer Davide Sponga at Ceresio 7 Gym & Spa
They describe their twinship as being like a superpower, turbocharging their success. “We like to dress identically because you can’t go unnoticed. Even if you don’t remember our names, you remember us. We use it to our advantage and play with it as much as we can,” says Dan. Dean adds, “The advantage of being two yet one is that we dare to do new things with the awareness of never being alone. We take risks because we have each other! We are each other’s life jacket and never jump into the abyss alone. We always follow our feelings and share them, as sharing often becomes a starting point for new ideas. Our bond is undeniable and it allows us to always fight and be strong. We ‘feel’ each other. We are two people yet one soul.”
For Dan, it’s the same. “A twinner bond is even deeper than a brother bond, because there’s somebody on your side 100% of the time. You have a shoulder to cry on, you have a leg to stand on. I think you feel empowered. When we see twins that are not so twinly, we think, ‘Wow, what a waste.’”
Good friends photographer Giampaolo Sgura and stylist Miguel Arnau
In their early teens, they had to be separated from their big family and were eventually placed with foster carers in Arizona, but their relationship with the couple broke down and Dean was sent away. Parted for the first time in their lives, the pair describe this period as the most traumatic of their lives. They would write to and phone each other every day but nothing eased the emotional agony. A year later, they reunited. “After that, we said let’s never let anybody take control of us and make us do what we don’t want to do.”
Not fitting in at school or home made the pair search for a sense of family elsewhere. They found it at a hair salon in downtown Toronto after becoming friends with a woman they met on the subway who worked there. “She was also a model and we were in awe of this beautiful blonde woman.” She taught them about fashion and they began drawing and making clothes for her. “She was like a goddess. She is still our dear friend to this day,” says Dan. At the salon, the twins found the acceptance they had been missing all their lives. “There were gay hairdressers and fashion magazines. We were like, ‘Oh my God, this is our world. They think we’re cool and we fit in!’” remembers Dan, who describes the people he met there as their “guiding fashion parents”. They were only 14 and had started to explore the Toronto club scene, making long-term friends along the way. “We learnt the ropes of what life was about,” says Dan.
Colleague and good friend Alessandro Pribetti at Dsquared2 HQ’s showroom
They also began evolving their distinctive Dsquared2 look, making their own clothes because they couldn’t afford to buy any. “We never got new clothes, we never got to go shopping, but we loved fashion because it was what we couldn’t have,” says Dan, who puts sexy denim at the heart of their brand. “We used to do things that were teeny-weeny, like the sexiest tiny jeans and skinny jackets – casual but with an attitude.” After studying at Parsons (they left after a term), the twins launched their first fashion label – DEanDAN – in 1986, and by 1988 had become creative directors of Ports International. In 1991, they moved to Milan, working for Gianni Versace and Diesel before presenting their debut Dsquared2 men’s line in 1995 and the women’s line in 2001. They’re immensely proud of the business they’ve built, and their Milan HQ, which comes complete with a hugely successful restaurant, guesthouse and twin rooftop pool bars. It’s become a hub for all the people they hold dear.
Long, loyal friendships are a feature of the world the Catens have built. Their group head of design, Federica Viero, has been with them since the late 1990s, their restaurant is run by their long-term friends from the Ceresio 7 group, their personal trainers are among their best friends and they spend Christmas with their snowboarding instructors. “They all have families – lots of kids,” says Dan, who describes feeling happy in these big, bustling, multigenerational friendship groups. “We like being around normal, loving people who are not so jaded and not so superficial and show-offy. I don’t care if you have anything, I just care if you are nice and give good energy.”
Friends Barbara Ghidoni and Michele Pasini, of Storage Associati Architects, who have been involved in most Dsquared2 projects, at Ceresio 7 Guest House
As for their large family in Canada, “they’re much older than us and travelling is a big deal”, says Dan of their seven brothers and sisters. Clan get-togethers are rare but they keep in touch. All the siblings were present in 2017, when Dean and Dan were given the keys to Casalvieri, the town in the Lazio region where their Italian father was born. A couple of years ago, the brothers organised a special party for all the family, “like our grandma used to do on Christmas Day”. They gave everyone a year’s notice and rented a castle. “It was 150 people – my whole family, from cousins and aunts and uncles and their babies,” says Dan. The twins had family pictures framed and displayed on a memory wall. “And it was amazing. It was like a wedding.”
The power of two defines everything they do and they still get their biggest inspiration from each other. “Every once in a while, we have different perspectives, but we always try to find the best solution for both,” says Dean. “We are a family. We complete each other and we would not function without the other in our creative and daily paths. We talk a lot about our creative ideas and we always find a way to integrate them, because Dsquared2 is all about two creative forces coming together. It has been this way from the beginning because we believe in one another in a blind way that often surprises us, too. We are a team and our strength is being positive, fun-loving and full of energy.” The bond is unbreakable.
Top image: Dean and Dan Caten, owners and founders of Dsquared2, at Ceresio 7 Guest House, Milan.
Photography by Rosi Di Stefano. Taken from Issue 65 of 10 Magazine – FAMILY, FOREVER, LOVE – available to purchase here.