Ellen Van Dusen, Designer, Dusen Dusen

San Francisco just got way cooler and Ellen Van Dusen is to blame - and her little dog (Snips) too! We say "blame" because we're going to feel a loss when Ellen heads back to NY, after reading this, you will too. In town for a Workshop Residence, this lady really has the brains to back up her creative vision. The queen of contemporary patterns, Ellen bases her process on neuroscience and the evolution of vision while taking inspiration from her contemporaries in the art world. Way more than fashion, these designs have rare depth just like their creator. Today Lisa Says Gah spends some time with Ellen at her (temporary) Dogpatch district studio, so you can take a peek behind the scenes. Enjoy!  

LSG: Hey there! Let's jump right in, shall we. Can you give us an idea of the path you've taken professionally?  

I don't have any formal professional training, I’ve been wingin’ it since 2010 when I started my line. I did a design your own major program in college where I studied the visual process from different disciplines. I focused mostly on the neuroscience and evolution of vision, and how that relates to our perception of art and design. Right out of college I worked for a clothing designer, Mary Meyer and learned a ton. After about a year, I went out on my own and started Dusen Dusen.

LSG: It might seem pretty obvious, but can you tell us how you decided on the name of your company? The reiteration is interesting. 
My last name is Van Dusen, and growing up a lot of my friends called me Dusen. Because the line is based around repeat pattern prints, I liked the repetition of Dusen Dusen. Plus it has a nice ring to it.

LSG: We know you live in The Big Apple. How does location inform your process? 

Being in New York definitely has an influence on the types of things I am making. What I love most about living here is easy access to what’s happening in art and culture. I go to galleries and museums regularly and stay up to date on what’s happening in the art world - I really enjoy it. Engaging in such a dynamic community of artists and makers provides a lot of the inspiration for my prints.

LSG: What "type" of person do you design for?  

I usually just think about the things I imagine my friends wearing. I like my clothes to be easy and comfortable, but still to stand out and be a little bit weird. So, laid back, weird, cool, comfortable. That is how I would describe my ideal customer! I want her to feel confident and cool - not like she is going overboard but still unique.

LSG:  How do materials inform your work? 

I like the fabrics I work with to have that same easy quality as the silhouettes. I like natural, light fabrics that have a good drape and that feel nice against your skin.

LSG: There can be an air of mystery around a finished piece. What is the process of designing really like? 

I usually start by looking at a lot of art and music - soak up the things I like and design from that point. In my SP15 collection, I looked to Johnathan Lasker, Daniel Buren, and Giacomo Balla before sitting down and getting started. But it’s not all design! I think when starting a fashion line it is easy to underestimate the amount of time you need to dedicate to the business end. The design process is only a small part of my job, and it’s good to be prepared for and understand that before diving in.

LSG: What would you recommend mastering before becoming your own boss? 

Time management! It is never worth it to procrastinate. Also, being able to pinpoint the most important thing that needs to be done and making sure it is done well.

LSG: Can you give us a brief overview of your bucket list? What are some “musts”?

I am dying to see a great white shark (from a boat, not while swimming). There are shark tours in SF out near the Farallones but it’s not shark season at the moment, so I didn’t get to make it happen. I’d like to figure out how to make hard candy, someday I hope to grow a really huge, good watermelon, and I would like my dog to get first place in a costume contest. That’s all for now!

Interview by Olivia La Roche