There’s a method to Ellen Van Van Dusen’s madness for color and patterns. A sought-after young fashion designer, Van Dusen studied the psychology of design and the neuroscience of visual stimuli in college, crafting a self-directed major to satisfy her curiosity about how the brain processes the visual world. “I was interested in why we see the way we do, “ she explains.
The logo for her eponymous fashion label, Dusen Dusen, aptly captures it with an alliteration like a step-and-repeat pattern and letterforms comprised of triangles that play with negative and positive space.
Born to architect parents in Washington, D.C., her love of stripes, shapes, and wiggly lines was nurtured as a child. “Growing up, every room in my house was a different color. We had yellow dining chairs, checkerboard cabinets, a red, yellow, and blue sponge-painted bathroom, and bright rugs in every room.”
But Dusen particularly remembers the fabric patterns. “As a kid I wore a lot of stripes. My parents are into patterns, too, and I never had a set of white sheets!” Van Dusen also recalls many hours experimenting with tie-dye and potato prints. In high school, she she scoured vintage stores to search for clothes to customize.
After internships with Norma Kamali, Jill Stuart, and Proenza Schouler, Dusen has parlayed her homegrown skills into a thriving fashion label with a line of covetable home accessories. Known for “universally flattering basics,” as she describes her collections, Van Dusen has been featured in every major publication—Vogue, Elle, WWD, New York Times—and her quirky, chic dresses are coveted by a growing legion of discerning fangirls, like Lena Dunham, who wore her Fruity Tee dress in an episode of Girls.
Season after season, Van Dusen creates all her prints by hand, preferring the physical act of making to designing on the computer. Just as she did during those long, delightful hours at the arts and crafts tables of her childhood, Van Dusen’s work always starts with pencil sketches or cutting out shapes with a paper of scissors à la Matisse. Inspired by an eclectic pool of sources—from contemporary art, to Scandinavian textiles, to Google maps—what’s common in all of Van Dusen’s work is a dyed-in-the-wool belief in the hand made. “I always start with the prints and the designs will follow.”
These days, Van Dusen is busy with her spring/summer collection, which will debut at Capsule during New York Fashion Week, but she agreed to share this sneak peek with us.