August 25, 2003 12:00 PM

When it comes to designing clothes, Dean and Dan Caten, the identical twins behind DSquared, rarely argue. “If we both like it,” says Dean, 38, “it’s genius.” Sharing their clothes, however, is an entirely different story. “It’s like, ‘Gimme those shoes!’ ” says Dan. “But I’m older,” says Dean, born 15 minutes before his brother, “so I always win.”

Actually, they’re both winners. Since starting DSquared in 1995, the twins’ sexy and humorous looks—150 surgical-mask swimsuit, $525 mink-lined stilettos and $900 gold-leather button-down shirts—have seduced the likes of Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake, who are wearing DSquared on their current concert tour. Madonna so loved a pair of “mud-spattered” DSquared jeans (it was actually artfully melted brown latex) that she wore them in her 2001 video “Don’t Tell Me.” “The clothes,” says Ricky Martin, “have a great rock and roll feel.”

The twins’ celebrity clients-who, say the Catens, helped push DSquared sales to $10 million last year—aren’t the only thing keeping the pair busy. “We’re friendly guys,” says Dan—with the social schedule to prove it. They spent New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro with Rupert Everett and recently returned from Naomi Campbell‘s birthday party in Saint-Tropez. Dean’s refrigerator currently contains only three apples and half-empty bottles of vodka, schnapps and wine.

Until last year, the brothers shared the apartment. In May Dan and boy-friend businessman Michele Balzarotti, 32 (who also, incidentally, is an identical twin), exchanged rings in a commitment ceremony. The couple live in a four-bedroom house outside Milan, but the twins “are always together,” says Dan. “I get him every morning.”

The youngest of nine, Dan and Dean were raised in suburban Toronto by their Italian immigrant father, Dan Sr., 74, a welder, after their mother left the family when the twins were only 6 months old. “It was hard for him to raise nine kids alone,” Dan says of his father. “It wasn’t a good home life.” At 18, the twins struck out on their own, attending Parsons School of Design in New York City. In 1984 they found jobs at a Toronto clothing company and within a year were its chief designers. After the company’s sale in 1990, they decided to try their luck in Italy. “Everybody said, ‘Don’t do it!’ ” Dean recalls. They soon discovered why. “We had all our designs, but they were from Canada,” says Dan. “People in Italy were like, ‘How do we even know you did these?’ ”

Using the last of their savings, the Catens sunk $35,000 into a collection that they displayed at a men’s fashion trade show in Paris in 1995. When they sold $250,000 worth of merchandise, the twins knew DSquared was a hit. Today their secret for success remains the same as it was back then. “Your eyes,” says Dan, “have to always be open.” All four of them.

Allison Adato

Courtney Rubin in Milan

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