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Behind The Scenes

Ellen Van Dusen’s Embarrassing Clothes-Making Past

Plenty of designers discovered their fashion aptitude by making clothes for themselves. Very few would be willing to share photos of those first creations. But Brooklyn-based textile phenom Ellen van Dusen has come far enough with her line Dusen Dusen that she can embrace her novice pieces. Here, a mini retrospective of the artist’s (very) early works. “I’m nine years old and wearing the first shirt I ever made—I’m on the far left in the American flag tee. This picture is at sleep-away camp. I painted the shirt with fabric paint, and I would totally still wear it today!”“Those are my fake glasses that I wore to a Weezer concert—shameful. I was in ninth grade then. I made the choker—I was into making beaded chokers. The shirt was my mom’s growing up. It was J. Crew from the sixties, and it had a really tiny beach scene repeated a bunch of times. It was awesome, and I destroyed it. At that age, I was into making my shirts really tight, so I cut it up.”“I was in a carpool with these guys. I sewed car shirts for everyone. We all had old T-shirts, and I stitched on fabric that I cut from other old shirts.”“I painted this shirt with, like, house paint.” [Ed: Please note that the words “Ellen smells” are written in the sand.] “I’m wearing the same shirt I was wearing at the Weezer concert, but, as a bonus I’m also wearing a pair of jeans that I tie-dyed purple—a poor choice.”“This was, like, tenth or eleventh grade. I made the skirt from an old T-shirt, and the sweatshirt  was originally giant—I took it in, making it super tight. Everything was from thrift stores.”
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What Ellen Listens to While she Works

Though Ellen van Dusen creates the kind of loud, high-energy pieces that immediately put you in a good mood—and frequents the kind of Brooklyn venues whose shows aren’t advertised—she spends as much of her workday listening to what could be classified as educational programming as to indie music. Here, she shares her favorites in both categories. The Moth“It’s a podcast of stories told live without notes. There was a really awesome one recently with Steve from Blue’s Clues. He talks about how he was just this big nerd, and at one point he was named one of People’s most eligible bachelors. He started getting all these letters, including one from a Playboy model. It was just hilarious—and mortifying.”Weezer“Growing up, I was, like, obsessed with Weezer—to a fault. It was a problem. I still listen to Pinkerton and The Blue Album. Those are the best ones—the only good ones, really.”Best Coast“I really like ‘Crazy For You,’ which is also the name of the album.”This American Life“Whenever there’s a new one on, I listen to it. I’ve heard every single episode because I used to listen to eight episodes—back-to-back-to-back—if I was working for eight hours. I really like the economy ones, actually. I’m not super informed about that stuff, and I find it’s really easy to understand when they explain it. And I like the sad ones.”Arthur Russell“He’s an old disco-y guy. I don’t really like disco, but he has a lot of mellow stuff.”Darlings“They’re good friends of mine—some of them used to be roommates of my boyfriend—but I actually really do listen to them. They play at a lot of DIY venues, like Death by Audio and Market Hotel.”Radiolab“It’s a science-based podcast that’s similar to This American Life. There was one that I listened to recently about cities that was great. It was basically asking, ‘Does the city make the person, or do the people make the city?’ It included a really awesome story about Centralia, which is a coal-mining town where a fire started underground and has continued to burn for years and years and years. It addresses how cities don’t really die, ever. You should check it out.”Doozies“My brothers started a band together called the Doozies. It’s just the two of them, and they’re really good. They’re in D.C. and very new—still trying to get out there. Their sound is kind of garage-rock with some punk undertones.”
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A Textile Tutorial by Ellen Van Dusen

It’s easy to spot a Dusen Dusen print coming down the street—the textiles, with their graphic but imperfect patterns, jump out from blocks away. Ellen pulls ideas from all sorts of highbrow sources (that include some lowbrow references), and here, she walks us through the entire print creation process.   Ellen created a textile especially for the rucksack she designed for Of a Kind. Both the material and the final product are amazing—you can check them out and buy one of the 25 bags here. “Whenever I’m designing prints, I spend a lot of time looking at art books and zines. This is one of my favorite zines, Paper Rad Zine, from a collective of three artists, Ben Jones, Jessica Ciocci, and Jacob Ciocci. I love this piece by Jessica with all the Miss Piggy and Barbie stuff. I would never put something this crazy on my clothes, but it’s a good starting point.” “This book is from Tauba Auerbach, who’s one of my favorite artists. It’s called 50/50, and every one of the pages is fifter percent black and fifty percent white. It kind of hurts your eyes, but it’s pretty awesome. I could never put this on clothes either, but again, it’s a good starting point. “The print on the black and white skirt was heavily inspired by that up there—the print on the left, by Ben Jones.” “I took the lines from it and translated them into this design on the piece of poster board.” “Basically, I grid out a design, draw it in pencil, and go over it in ink. Then I cut it out, scan it, and edit it in Photoshop, making it totally black and taking out the background. Next, I take it into Illustrator to replicate it to turn it into a pattern.” “For each piece, I have to choose between digital printing and silk-screening. There is a textural difference between the two methods, and on the backpacks I made for Of a Kind, you can really feel the printing.” A swatch of the white-on-denim fabric she used for the rucksacks is pictured above, in the middle of one of Ellen’s spirited bulletin boards.
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