Studio Visit

The Trippy Secrets Behind This Cult Brand’s Mesmerizing Patterns

Dusen Dusen’s designer is a color theory master.

By: Hannah Baxter
Photography: Weston Wells

Climbing the steps to the Dusen Dusen studio is akin to entering a kaleidoscope—neon colors and abstract patterns cover everything from tencel midi dresses to tufted dog beds. Stacks of reference books fight for space amongst a veritable mountain of printed textiles, and if you’re lucky, you might spot Snips, the resident Boston terrier, hiding beneath a rack of towels. While the sheer volume of items inside the compact Brooklyn space might, at first glance, imply a love for chaos, Ellen Van Dusen, the designer behind the eponymous label, is actually quite meticulous. “I’m reading all these books right now on early artists making art on computers, and I’m in the very preliminary stages of figuring out how to code patterns. It’s very cool.”

As Dusen Dusen has expanded from a playful womenswear brand to a line of equally vibrant home goods—and most recently a menswear collaboration with Ddugoff—it’s easy to assume that the visionary Dusen has plenty of innovative ideas up her sleeve. We couldn’t wait to get the scoop on everything that lies ahead for the cult label on our visit to her Williamsburg studio. And don’t worry—we captured a few photos of Snips along the way.

“I always made clothes for myself in high school and middle school and all through college at Tufts in Boston. So I interned with Proenza Schouler, which was amazing.”

“I moved [to New York] and started working for this designer, Mary Meyer. She’s based in Bushwick. I was making clothes for myself and getting compliments all the time, so I was like, ‘Why not give it a shot?’ So I brought [them] to one store in the East Village called Duo.”

“[The clothes I made] sold really quickly there, and I was sewing all the time—at that point I was hand-sewing everything, which was terrible. So I did that for about six months, and then I quit my job and decided to try to do it in a bigger capacity.”

“[I find inspiration] all over the place, but I definitely look at a lot of art. I think a lot about the eye and the way we see things and illusions and all that stuff. But right now I have two younger brothers, and they’re both coders. [One of them] came over and taught me how to code random patterns.”

“We gave [the code] a rule—every time you refresh the page, it will make a new image based on that rule. I just can’t believe it. It’s shocking. That’s a new frontier for me, and I’m in the very preliminary stages of figuring it out.”

“I’m not necessarily consciously thinking about [the way the brain perceives color and pattern] when I’m designing a print, but it just, like, informs my whole sense of design in general. I feel like I just have a distinct perspective on color and pattern.”

“[My advice for wearing clashing patterns] is start on a theme. So I like stripes on stripes or dots on dots. Or floral on floral, and go from there. Think about scale—if you wear a small pattern with a bigger-scale pattern, the smaller one can read as more of a solid. Don’t tone it down. Have some fun.”

“I feel like if you’re somebody who wears black, maybe you’ll just always be somebody who wears black, but I think just be yourself and express yourself through your clothes.”

“I love when older women buy my stuff. I’ve done sample sales where 75-year-old women have come and tried stuff on. It’s so nice. [laughs]”

“I get tagged in a lot of dog photos, because I make stuff for dogs, which is my biggest thrill [laughs]. It’s so fun. And people will send me emails, too, with photos of their dogs, and it’s a treat.”

“I have almost no solid garments, so it’s really hard for me to get dressed in the winter because you just have to wear so many things. I just look like an insane person, but I’m working on it.”

“Oh yeah, [I’ve always been drawn to color]. When I was in ninth grade, I would never wear jeans—I would only wear colored pants. I had pants in every color of the rainbow. Not cool. [laughs]. It was my thing. It was like a challenge, and I really stepped to it.

“I had the [clothing] line for five years when I decided to try my hand in home goods. I did it because I realized my favorite thing about the clothing line was designing the prints, and home goods gave me that same opportunity to explore the prints, but it gave it a new context.”

“It was just a stage in my life where I started caring more about the way my home felt and looked. I essentially only had sheets that I had received as gifts from my parents. I’d never actively bought my own set of sheets, and I had such a hard time finding anything that I liked. I was like, ‘You know what? Maybe I should just do it.’”

“It’s been so great in both the fashion and the design community. [In fashion] everyone’s very open and friendly and wants to help each other out. I also found that [the] people I’ve met through the design community, I just have so much in common with [them]. So it’s been really nice. Like, Phoebe and Peter of Cold Picnic are really good friends, [and] Helen Levi—she makes pottery.”

“I feel like I design for myself and my friends, but I don’t have a conscious person in mind necessarily when I’m designing a collection. I feel like it’s for people that don’t take themselves too seriously and [like to] have a good time.”

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