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Wild Ones

Ellen Van Dusen & Snips in Living Color

The designer on playing with patterns, punching up home decor for dogs, and that time Harry Styles sported a Dusen Dusen sweater on SNL.

by Avery Felman
December 28, 2021
Ellen Dusen holding her dog Snips while seated at a colorful table
Vincent Tullo

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Ellen Van Dusen’s signature bold, color-blocked prints are featured on everything from towels to tissue boxes, duvets to dog beds; in limited-edition collaborations including a Dims chair, Uniqlo tee, and Keds kicks; and as TV show props in Girls and Broad City. It’s a shame dogs are all but colorblind because the Dusen Dusen designer’s black-and-white Boston Terrier, Snips, is living in a vivid world. But while Snips may not be able to fully appreciate the geometric, multichromatic patterns her mom applies to her wildly popular line of dog beds and matching sweaters, she inspired it all as Dusen’s little muse, mascot, and product tester.

Dusen calls Brooklyn home, and she flits back and forth between her Bed-Stuy brownstone and Clinton Hill studio/storefront, with Snips always in tow (the dream team are together more often than not). We caught up with Dusen and got the download on her Snips-approved designs, off-duty pastimes, and the career highlight of seeing Harry Styles play Aidy Bryant’s pet on SNL skit “My Dog is My Boyfriend” wearing a Dusen Dusen sweater.

Dusen and her dog snips
Courtesy of Ellen Dusen

Tell us about Snips!

Snips has a lot of personality. She is always most interested in the person that is the least interested in her. She likes the chase. The best way to get her attention is to act like you don’t want it. She is also really good at eye contact. She will stare at people for five minutes straight, to the point that it makes them uncomfortable, which I find to be very funny!

Dogs are great for maintaining work/life balance. Does Snips help with that and your general well-being?

Yes! I originally got Snips when my studio was in my apartment, 11 years ago. At the time I was spending way too much time at home, sometimes not going outside at all if the weather was particularly bad. I dog-sat another dog for a week, realized how much better it made my life, and decided I must get a dog. It really does keep you on track, and I find that a Snips break during the day almost always improves my mood.

Snips is almost always present in photos of you, your work, etc. Does she go everywhere with you?

Snips comes to work with me every day; she is my little mascot. She gets a lot of attention from my coworkers too. I like to think she loves coming to the studio, but she doesn’t really have a choice. I take her everywhere I can!

Dusen and her dog snips
Courtesy of Ellen Dusen

Do other dogs stop by the storefront?

We sell dog sweaters, so a lot of customers come by with their dogs to try them on. It’s very fun for me. My coworkers don’t have dogs, but I think Snips prefers it that way so she doesn’t have to share the spotlight. She likes to be the star of the show.

Did Snips inspire you to add dog beds and sweaters to the Dusen Dusen line?

I started making dog beds after I got Snips, because every dog bed I could find was either boring or ugly. A dog bed is something everyone with a dog has, and it’s sort of like a piece of furniture. It’s always out and takes up a good amount of space on the floor. It makes a huge difference to have something that is nice to look at.

Does Snips test out your designs?

Snips is our main wear tester. We have so many dog beds at home. I stack them. She always chooses the tallest stack — she’s a real diva. Right now her main bed (the one on top of the stack) is our Wingdings Dog Bed.

Your matching human/dog sweaters are amazing. Do you and Snips ever coordinate and wear the same thing?

The whole concept of the human/dog sweaters was inspired by me wanting to match Snips. So yes, we certainly do. It’s both embarrassing and emboldening.

Dusen and her dog snips
Courtesy of Ellen Dusen

Your debut collection of dog sweaters was so popular and seemed to sell out pretty quickly. Have you considered expanding your line and designing more pet clothes, toys, etc?

That collection was really popular thanks to Aidy Bryant and Harry Styles. There was a sketch on SNL where Aidy’s dog turns into Harry Styles, and they are wearing the same sweater [see below]. Honestly one of my favorite career moments. I like to keep my dog collection tight — it feels like a little club if you’re in the know. But who knows what the future holds!

What inspires — and where do you source — your eclectic prints and patterns?

I like to think of my prints as a reflection of the world around me. I take a lot of photos of things that catch my eye, then look back through my images and look for trends in what I’m interested in. Once I nail down some true commonalities, I design from there. Recently I’ve been looking at work by Matthew Ronay and Sophie Taeuber-Arp — complex tile patterns and ’60s wallpaper.

People are investing in their pets more than ever before, especially on well-designed wearables and decor. Have you noticed an increase in demand from customers (especially during the pandemic when everyone got a dog)?

I think in general during the pandemic people were trying to make their living situations more hospitable. I also think with all the time at home, people felt closer to their dogs. We have been selling more dog beds than usual!

Dusen's dog snips
Courtesy of Ellen Dusen

How have you navigated the parts of dog ownership that aren’t always so colorful...or has Snips always been an easy-going dog?

I got really lucky with Snips; she makes things really easy. She doesn’t like to be outside when it’s gross out, doesn’t destroy anything, and generally has a fun and cute attitude. The responsibility part can be hard but so worth it. I have a network of friends and fam that are also big Snips fans, so I have backups if I can’t make it home in time or leave town.

What are your favorite things to do together when you’re not working?

She has a stuffed pig from Ikea (I continue to replace them once they get destroyed) that she loves. It’s just about her size. We play a game where I hide the pig somewhere in the house and ask her where the pig is. The way she looks for it is so exaggerated — it’s like a cartoon. She audibly sniffs, looks inside every vessel, knocks pillows off the couch...it really cracks me up. I like to take her to the Ridgewood Reservoir, which is a nice place to walk about 15 mins from my place in Bed-Stuy. There’s a loop that you can take around the reservoir that makes you feel like you’re completely out of NYC.

What’s next for you, Snips, and Dusen Dusen?

Snips and I are spending more time upstate, which she is very into. I always saw her as a city dog but I’m learning that she’s versatile. For Dusen Dusen, we’re working on new collections and have some exciting collaborations coming out next year.

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Avery, editor at The Wildest, and her cat, Chicken

Avery Felman

Avery is an editor at The Wildest. She has written for numerous publications, including Refinery29, BuzzFeed, and V Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her boyfriend and cat, Chicken, and has high hopes that one of them will let her adopt a dog.