”What can you live with that stands out and feels contemporary, but is also palatable among all your other stuff?”
Ellen Van Dusen × Designer × Brooklyn, U.S.A.
In the most colorful way possible, Ellen Van Dusen has become something of a generational designer. She started with a clothing line whose gallery of signature bright, cheerful patterns garnered legions of fans — especially among designers and architects. From there, she went on to launch a successful home line and has partnered with brands like Uniqlo and Keds. Her latest project is a collaboration with Dims. for a new version of Stine Aas’s Cleo Chair, a plucky, technicolor limited edition, equal parts De Stijl and Dusen Dusen.
RE: CLEO‘S NEW COLORS
Choosing color is more of an art than a science — I‘m just pulling from different worlds. For my typical work, I develop the prints and the colors in tandem or I start with the prints first and then move on to the colors. But because this was specifically only about color, I started with Color-aid paper — I have a pack that I got, I think 10 years ago, and just love them. They‘re so juicy. The color is so saturated. So, I get those out and I go through every color and I just pull the ones that are speaking to me in the moment. I make groups. I make 10 different groups of color based on these colors that I‘m drawn to in the moment and then whittle it down from there.
“I think in terms of pops of color.”
RE: STANDING OUT, IN HARMONY
I thought about this chair more in the way I think of my home line than about the clothing I design — you have to live with it all the time. So, it was a mix of gut and practicality. What can you live with that stands out and feels contemporary, but is also palatable among all your other stuff?
RE: LIVING WITH LOUD COLOR
I think in terms of pops of color, rather than going full color. In my house, for instance, all the walls are white — I didn‘t do any colored walls, but all my fixtures are super bright. Actually, the other day I was sitting in there and I said to myself, “Oh no, I’m going to need to tone something down in here because it’s becoming a little overwhelming!” But I love full color, too.
“I love putting stuff together, taking it apart.”
RE: ANTI-AGING ARCHITECTURE
The architects Madeline Gins and Shusaku Arakawa believed that their buildings could keep you from aging. A central part of their design philosophy involved using a huge palette of colors — maybe fifty or more in one space. I think their buildings are incredible, some of the coolest stuff in the world, but I wouldn‘t want to live in one necessarily. I‘m not buying into the idea that design can lengthen your life, but there is something revitalizing about strong color.
I think about their work often because I feel like it would be easy for me to go that way — an overload of color. Still, I tend to prefer some matching, and a pairing of neutral with bright. Some neutral is what makes a bright color stand out!
RE: GROWING UP WITH ARCHITECTS
My parents are architects. We were always doing little design projects without me really realizing that we were doing them — all these things I thought everybody did. Turns out, it was not what everybody did. We would spend every Sunday having a cultural experience, visiting a museum or a landmark building. We would always go visit buildings, just to look at them. Or we‘d paint. I remember my mom once let me help her sponge paint the bathroom. When we were little, my dad would make a woodcut silhouette of a cartoon character we liked and we‘d paint it. There are still a lot of characters in exotic colors lying around somewhere. I have a blue Snoopy still in my room.
RE: FUTURE DUSEN
I would like to do more interiors. Doing my house was really a fun project because it was a way of bringing together all these separate things that I care about. I like seeing the bigger picture. I feel that phase three of Dusen Dusen will be larger scale projects and more project-based collections.
RE: FASHION, VIA COLOR FIELD PAINTINGS
I did not study fashion, but I did always know I loved making clothes. I made a lot of my own in high school. I always had a sense that that was the world that I was interested in, but I always felt like the industry was not for me. All the people I knew who were going into fashion didn‘t feel like my people. I love putting stuff together, taking it apart. I loved going to fabric stores, picking out crazy patterns and kind of piecing everything together.
When I made clothes in high school, I always picked the brightest stuff and matched weird colors together — not entirely different from what I‘m doing now. I was always drawn to art with a focus on color.
“Choosing color is more of an art than a science. I‘m just pulling from different worlds.”
Image courtesy of Clever
In college, I did a weird thing. It was so long ago and I‘m not fully versed in it now, but I studied neuroscience and art history. I always wondered, “What does it mean about my brain that I‘m obsessed with color?” My major came from trying to figure out why that was and then applying it into my own little world of stuff.
I wrote a thesis on color field paintings from a neurological perspective, specifically work by Ellsworth Kelly, Morris Louis and Mark Rothko. I also made a collection of clothes based on the paintings and my research. I never learned any of the design programs or anything, I just winged it. The postcard for my show was a crude photoshopped picture of one of the dresses from the collection with Ellsworth Kelly‘s head imposed on top. It looked terrible.
RE: THE COLOR OF DESIGN
I was looking at something recently that showed that maybe two percent of industrial designers are Black. Two percent, tops, if I’m remembering correctly. That’s just crazy, right? And when I think about being an entrepreneur in this space, there are just very few Black designers running businesses like mine. I think it‘s really important to show the younger generation that you can be any color and work in design. If you can‘t see anyone that looks like you in this whole industry, it‘s hard to picture yourself in it. Changes need to be made across the board — in hiring, in education, in programs for kids... there‘s real work that needs to be undone and done, but I think it‘s the most important thing to tackle in design today. Design is a reflection of day-to-day life and without a diverse set of perspectives in our field, we‘re not only losing an important part of our culture, but contributing to the whitewashing of our world.