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In The Studio with Dusen Dusen

  • Images: Chloe Horseman
  • File Under: Life
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Kaleidoscopes, op art, the illustration work of Andy Rementer or Olimpia Zagnoli, Ettore Sottsass and Memphis, analog TV static, Mr. Sketch scented markers, 90s computer art, gratuitous geometric shapes. If you like any of those things, in all their optical decadence and slightly hallucinogenic glory, odds are you'd love Dusen Dusen.

The New York design house founded and run by Ellen van Dusen is well-known for its bold domestic textiles, but you might not have known that her work is actually rooted in the neuroscience of aesthetics. Little wonder nobody can seem to look away from a Dusen Dusen piece. Ellen showed us around her technicolor studio this month. We left happily overstimulated.

Thanks for having us, Ellen. So, where did you grow up?
I grew up in D.C.. My parents are architects and my brothers are musicians. It was always very loud and very colorful.
And, how did you get your start in design?
I was always interested in design and the psychology behind it. In college I studied the neuroscience of aesthetics: why certain things appeal to the eye, how we process color in the brain and how that manifests in relation to art and design. After I graduated I worked for a clothing designer for about a year, and then started my line.

"These are the things I keep going back to: optical illusions, board games from the 60's, artists like Yaacov Agam, Frank Stella and Bridget Riley, resort architecture and candy."

Were you, like, a total geometry whiz in high school?
Actually.... YES! When I went to college I thought I was going to be a math major. I just got a book called The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Geometry and it's my new favorite.
An art historian 100 years from now might read any number of influences in your work: Memphis, op art, maybe even early computer graphics and about a half-dozen others. Give us the a little rundown of the inspiration behind DD's trademark bold, shape-driven patterns. Were there any hallucinogens involved? (lulz)
You are right on the nose! I look at a lot of different stuff before I design a new collection, but these are the things I keep going back to: optical illusions, board games from the 60's, artists like Yaacov Agam, Frank Stella and Bridget Riley, resort architecture and candy. Inspiration everywhere, the saying goes. Also... haha re: hallucinogens
So, think about a typical Dusen Dusen pattern. How, if it's possible to generalize, does it go from being in your head to a real object? Do you work more digitally or by hand?
I usually start by hand and translate the pattern onto the computer. The process changes based on how I want the end pattern to look. If I want it to be more organic and have a hand drawn feeling, I'll scan my drawing into the computer and work from there. If I want a more geometric, hard-edge pattern, I'll use my original drawing as a plan, and make the design completely on the computer. I use illustrator exclusively when making prints.
So, Dusen Dusen began with a line of womenswear. How (and why) did you make the leap to producing home goods? It's an interesting leap!
My favorite thing about making clothes is designing the prints, and I was interested in exploring those prints in a new context. I also felt limited by clothing—with fit, gendered garments and price point, it started to feel very exclusive. With home, it opened up the world for me a little bit. Plus, I started focusing more energy on my own home and on environments in general, so it felt like a natural step!
Are there any other similar leaps in the brand's near future? I know some guys who could use more good patterns in their lives. Just sayin'.
We are developing a line of upholstery fabric, which is new for us and has been a lot of fun. We just collaborated with Brendan Timmins, a furniture designer whose work I love, where he used our upholstery fabrics on sets of chairs that fit together like puzzle pieces. I am super excited about how they came out. And excited to see what else we can do with upholstery. Maybe.... my couch? A car interior? Theater seats? A yacht? So much unexplored territory.





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