“We weren’t 100 percent sure if we were going to show the platforms,” said Dan Caten. “But there wasn’t enough contrast [with the ready-to-wear].”
Flash-forward to their men’s collection shown during Milan Fashion Week in June, and the duo took a ballsy approach to “butch-glam realness,” said Dean Caten. Bleach-stained jeans and camouflage baseball jackets were paired with the sequin platform boots, which were all hand-embroidered in India. “We had a casting of 40 guys, and we brought it down to 16, because we couldn’t change them in the boots fast enough,” said Dan. “We just changed their tops.”
Even the designers themselves wore the thigh-high boot style to take their runway bow. “We realized, ‘We can’t send them out in high heels and then come out in flats,’ ” said Dan. “We wanted to celebrate our sexuality, and be proud. This was the first real gay pride moment that we’ve had. It was like a parade, in a weird way.”
Of course, this type of bold, experimental approach to menswear is not a new idea for the Caten brothers, who live in London but have headquarters in Milan. It also isn’t the first time they’ve shown men’s heels on the runway. For the brand’s fall ’03 men’s presentation, a male model opened the show wearing white leather thigh-high platforms. “We actually sold 500 pairs of those shoes,” said Dean.
Originally from Toronto, the Caten brothers launched Dsquared2 as a men’s label in 1995, but they have since grown the brand into an international men’s and women’s business that had sales of 220 million euros last year, or about $243 million at current exchange.
Ready-to-wear is licensed and distributed by Staff International. The men’s footwear, meanwhile, is produced by the Italian factory and brand Galizio Torresi, and the women’s footwear is produced internally.
While many design duos handle different parts of the company, the Caten brothers insist they’ve maintained their growth by doing things together at all times — though they each hold individual strengths and weaknesses. “I’m maybe the more responsible one,” joked Dan. “He has much more patience for [the business side],” added Dean.
Along the way, the designers have especially picked up a reputation for their elaborate runway extravaganzas, where each show guarantees an over-the-top — and sometimes outlandish — performance. Dsquared2’s fall ’03 presentation, for instance, saw models such as Naomi Campbell emerge from a private jet. The fall ’10 men’s event went for a kitschy hockey theme, where models donned sports jerseys and bloodied faces. The spring ’14 show even had an elaborate deserted island set, complete with its own waterfall.
The designers’ playful approach to fashion is what has drawn retailers to the brand. “When our customers are shopping our Dsquared2 sneakers, they are not looking for subtlety,” said Stephen Carnes, buying manager for Zappos Luxury. “The brand has such a big energy about it that it’s hard not to fall in love with their playfulness — whether it’s their bold colorations of sneakers, interpretations of a Canadian hiking boot, or a sexy and sleek stacked heel boot.”
The brand has notably found success in the sneaker realm. Its multicolored sport sneaker, introduced in 2001, has been the consistent favorite in the collection — a style the brand continues to develop and update. “It’s still our best-seller after 15 years,” said Dean. “And until it stops selling, we’re going to continue it.”
Its latest focus includes a low-top look with bungee cord-style lacing, a commercialized take on a style first debuted as heels at Dsquared2’s spring ’16 women’s show. “The [bungee laces] were cute for the show, but they were also difficult to produce,” said Dan. “We’re doing the bungee lacing in boots and brogues, too.”
The brand’s steadfast growth comes at a time when the men’s market continues to undergo a transformation. “Men know a lot more now, and care a lot more,” said Dean. “They take more chances.”
But while many luxury names are using the moment to move toward genderless runway shows, don’t expect a complete unisex focus from Dsquared2 quite yet. “It would be ideal, but the whole world would have to get on the same page,” said Dan.
The twins are also tapping into the sports market by collaborating with Canadian retailer Hudson’s Bay to create uniforms for next month’s Olympics.
Canadian athletes will wear the looks during the opening and closing ceremonies. The offering includes Canada-red blazers and tuxedo shirts with a red maple leaf logo on the back. Liz Rodbell, president of Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor, admired the designers’ punchy point of view during the design process. “The result is sure to give our athletes that extra boost of Canadian cool, and make them stand out on the international stage,” she said.
As Dean and Dan continue to vie for a bigger piece of the men’s market, they have their sights set on widening their own global stage. In 2015, Dsquared2 opened store locations in Miami, New York and Beverly Hills, Calif. Long-term, they hope to have their U.S. online and retail sales account for 20 percent of all global revenue.
This year, the brand will also focus on Europe, its biggest market. The label’s store location in London is its largest: 8,612 square feet. The brothers opened a Rome boutique this year and will also unveil new store openings in Madrid and Paris at the end of July.
Focusing on their own flagships evolved out of a need to better display their product assortment, which the designers felt was getting lost within department stores. “It’s finally a full picture,” said Dean. “Sometimes we were misunderstood. Retailers didn’t know what floor to put us on. Now, there’s something for everybody, from espadrilles to classic shoes.”