The untold story of Von Dutch
The early 2000s were back in fashion for what seems like an eternity now, reigniting the demand for velor tracksuits, hipster jeans, rhinestone baby t-shirts and trucker hats that defined a era of consumption. Now, a new docu-series aims to examine the legacy of one of the world’s most sought-after brands.
“The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For,” released November 18 on Hulu, explores a complicated corporate origin story filled with sabotage and greed as various parties vie for control of the brand.
Andrew Renzi, the director, was drawn to the idea that Von Dutch, best known for his logoed trucker caps, was cursed from the start.
“Everyone who touched him, it touched them in a pretty negative way,” he said in a telephone interview.
Throughout the three-part series, Mr. Renzi explores the history of Von Dutch, illustrating how he emerged from obscurity to become a staple in Y2K fashion, worn by Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Jay-Z, and a very contentious case.
At the heart of the story is the question: what does it mean to build a brand on the likeness of another person? After all, Mr Renzi said, Von Dutch “was basically just a reappropriation of Kenny Howard’s artwork.”
Kenneth Robert Howard was a mid-century auto mechanic and designer turned artist who worked under the name Von Dutch. He started adorning hot rods in the 1950s with pinstripes, flames, and flying eyeballs, all of which became hallmarks of a subcultural movement known as Kustom Kulture. (Recent evaluations of his work focused on his racist and anti-Semitic statements.)
After Mr. Howard’s death in 1992, several people sought to capitalize on his name and influence.
“It was basically this seizure by a lot of people who claimed to have had the idea or taken the proper steps to own something that you should never really be able to own in the first place,” Mr. Renzi said.
Ed Boswell, an art collector in Los Angeles, is often cited as the founder of Von Dutch and appears in the documentary to claim his success. (The Times did not reach out to Mr. Boswell for comment before the publication.) But it wasn’t until 1996, when Mr. Howard’s daughters sold the rights to the Von Dutch name to Michael Cassel, a former trafficker. drug company that turned to clothing design after serving four years in prison, which Von Dutch has grown into the clothing company people know today.
Mr. Cassel and Robert Vaughn, his mentee, took Mr. Howard’s artistic signature and made it the logo for Von Dutch Originals, a clothing line that would turn working-class signifiers into markers of cool.
Emma McClendon, fashion historian and author of ” Supply Mode “, noted the tension between the brand’s trend and its roots. “There is a power dynamic implicit in the appropriation of clothes like this because you can choose the clothes you wear, but leave behind the work and legacy of the people who originally wore those clothes. in the context in which they wore them, ”she said. said in a telephone interview.
Booth Moore, the editor of Women’s Wear Daily on the West Coast, noted the irony of the hat appearing on Ms Hilton and Ms Richie as they did manual labor on their reality show “The Simple Life”. But, she said, “most of the people who wore it at the time had absolutely no idea what the brand was all about.”
Tonny Sorensen, an investor and taekwondo champion, took charge of Von Dutch in 2000, when the company was looking for funding. Mr. Sorensen hired French fashion designer Christian Audigier to help market Von Dutch and expand his reach to famous clientele. Under his leadership, Mr. Cassel and Mr. Vaughn believed the brand was “selling”.
“We probably created a culture of influence back then,” Sorensen said in a telephone interview. “We were the first to work in symbiosis with celebrities.” Mr. Audigier eventually left Von Dutch to join the Ed Hardy tattoo art-inspired line in 2004, when the trucker hats ($ 42 to $ 125) were helping the company generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue.
Fashion entrepreneur Tracey Mills has helped guide the company’s celebrity marketing efforts. “I was trying to bring in the biggest stars I knew and put them in the biggest videos, putting them on Ashton Kutcher when he was doing ‘Punk’d’, which was the biggest show,” he said. -he declares. “But I think over time, once the culture starts to see great artists, everyone wants them.”
This heyday, however, lasted only a few years; in 2009, Mr. Sorensen sold Von Dutch to Groupe Royer, a French shoe company.
“He was just looking for an opportunistic buyer,” said Ed Goldman, acting general manager of Von Dutch North America. While production has never stopped and the company has never gone bankrupt, its appeal has waned. “It’s just become this cult of cool,” Ms. Moore said. “Until it doesn’t.”
In 2019, Mr. Goldman was hired to help relaunch the Von Dutch brand and figure out how to market it to a new generation of buyers. “The brand had a very strong connection within the hip-hop community, where the light was still shining during the genre of the fall era,” Mr. Goldman said. Over the past two years, Megan you stallion and Saweetie were spotted at Von Dutch, and last month the brand released a streetwear collection with Young Thug.
The company has also brought back some of the brand’s most iconic pieces and logos. The classic trucker hat is currently Von Dutch’s best-selling item, according to the company; his bowling bags are just behind. After Travis Scott wore a pair of vintage Von Dutch wide-leg jeans on his 2018 tour, the brand re-released the style. It is currently sold out, Goldman said.
Some Los Angeles stylists are banking on the brand’s nostalgia, including Sankara Xasha Turé, who dressed Saweetie in a tie-dye Von Dutch tracksuit Last year. Ms. Turé recalled that the ex-boyfriend of rapper Quavo had borrowed one of his tracksuits and show it on Instagram, too much. “This is one of those types of ‘I have to have it’ agreements,” she said.
Von Dutch, a private company, is currently focused on e-commerce. However, the line can also be found in a limited selection of street clothing retailers across the United States. Although the company does not disclose its profits, Mr. Goldman described the growth as “astronomical.”
Morgane Le Caer, head of content for the global shopping platform Lyst, said Von Dutch searches have increased 148% on the site in the past year. “Just as some pop culture celebrities like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton are being won back, the new generation is embracing Y2K fashion trends,” she wrote in an email.
Maybe it’s time to find your Ugg boots?