December 2, 2021

How Von Dutch’s Trucker Hat Empire Resulted in Chaos and Dying

8 min read

Within the aughts, it was unattainable to overlook the feeling that was Von Dutch.

What began out as a small counter-culture model intent on creating high-quality denim out of the blue exploded onto the scene.

The Venice Seaside-based label was recognized for its iconic trucker hats stamped with the scrawly signature brand, popularized by the likes of Ashton Kutcher, Jay Z, Madonna, Britney Spears, and naturally: it women of the period Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, who nearly completely wore Von Dutch’s camouflage pants and flame caps once they swapped glittery Los Angeles for The Easy Life.

Then hastily, Von Dutch vanished. It turned an odd relic of pop-culture historical past.

Now, Hulu’s new three-part docuseries, The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For, premiering Nov. 18, sheds gentle on the little-known behind-the-scenes turmoil on the notorious label, revealing vicious infighting, soiled authorized tips, revenge, and even menacing threats from the household of Pablo Escobar. All of it crescendoed in murder and the autumn of a as soon as up-and-coming vogue firm.

Whereas the Von Dutch title is usually synonymous with Y2K vogue, not many are aware of the model’s namesake: the Los Angeles artist and bike mechanic Kenny Howard.

A legendary figure of hot-rod culture in the 1950s and ’60s, Howard was a screwball, an alcoholic, and an total jackass, however is credited as being the daddy of contemporary pinstriping on cars.

Howard had a eager eye and creative aptitude, however in contrast to different artists, he was blasé when it got here to his work and his artwork items. “Use any of my stuff you wish to,” Howard’s manifesto is quoted within the docuseries. “Nothing is unique. All the pieces is within the unconscious, we simply ‘faucet’ it generally and suppose we have now originated one thing. Genes make us roughly fascinated with sure issues, however nothing is really unique! Copyright and patents are largely an ego journey.”

However mockingly, Von Dutch was spun right into a mainstream, flashy clothes firm that in the end unraveled following a pissing match between a squirrelly forged of characters who every believed the model belonged to them.

“Once I take into consideration the curse, it’s this concept that it was by no means anybody’s within the first place,” director Andrew Renzi explains to The Every day Beast. “You form of get this Raiders of the Misplaced Ark monopoly factor, the place this brand that was no person’s aside from this man who handed away and by no means would have needed this to have occurred within the first place, is attracting all these individuals. I discovered that so fascinating as a result of it’s form of true. It simply laid wreckage and it’s as a result of everyone bought so obsessive about the concept it was theirs and that they deserved it and that they need to have it.”

On the coronary heart of the battle have been three males: Ed Boswell, Mike Cassel, and Robert “Bobby” Vaughn.

Boswell was the primary to put declare to the title. After Howard died in 1992 on the age of 63 on account of liver issues from his extreme ingesting, his daughters offered the rights to his namesake to Boswell, a hot-rod tradition fan and artwork supplier who started promoting patches of the Von Dutch signature and his iconic flying-eyeball graphic.

At a 1996 commerce present, Boswell met Cassel. who had already began up the favored skateboard/surfer/gangster clothes model Bronze Age Venice Underground however had misplaced the corporate after a foul enterprise deal and was in search of his subsequent thought.

Cassel had a fame for being a ruthless wildcard, largely on account of his previous as a drug kingpin who had ties to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s associates, serving to push cocaine up the West Coast. After a brief stint in jail for possession of medicine, Cassel needed to lastly go legit.

Paris Hilton in The Curse of Von Dutch: A Model to Die For


Armed with a knack for spinning gold from mud, Cassel believed he lastly discovered one thing in Von Dutch. However Cassel had a “unusual Midas contact,” as one former good friend described it. No matter Cassel touched may need turned to gold, however two seconds later, it will “flip to shit.”

Vaughn, the youngest of the three males, got here into the image when Cassel was nonetheless working Bronze Age, which the movie claims Cassel largely used to launder his drug cash. A fellow outcast, Vaughn was additionally trying to flip his life round after getting combined up in a taking pictures whereas in highschool.

Boswell, Cassel, and Vaughn launched Von Dutch clothes as a crew, having a imaginative and prescient of making the subsequent iconic American denim line—the subsequent Wrangler or Levi’s. Nevertheless it didn’t take lengthy for the infighting to start, with Cassel consistently butting heads with Boswell and finally screwing him out of the corporate.

From there, every thing started to spiral uncontrolled. In dire want of financing, Cassel turned to Danish investor Tonny Sorensen, a rich ex-taekwondo champion who got here to Los Angeles to attempt his hand at performing.

Sorensen turned CEO by 2000, pumping cash into the corporate and implementing some much-needed construction, bringing in his personal individuals to move the gross sales and advertising departments.

The transfer made Vaughn really feel sidelined and that his efforts to assist get Von Dutch some traction with guerilla-marketing ways, together with getting Tommy Lee and a handful of girls in his mansion into the gear for an episode of MTV’s Cribs, have been being ignored.

He was pushed additional and additional away from Von Dutch, main him to reconnect with Mark Rivas, a good friend from highschool that Vaughn had helped escape throughout the Mexico border after a deadly taking pictures. Ultimately, Sorensen considered Vaughn as extra of a headache than an asset, and in a sly authorized maneuver, purchased out Vaughn’s stake within the firm and fired him.

Booted from a model he helped construct, Vaughn rapidly spiraled downward—pulled deeper within the gangster world that Rivas runs in, turning into centered on discovering a method again into Von Dutch, and carrying a festering grudge towards Sorensen and Cassel, who he felt left him within the lurch.

In the meantime, Cassel was butting heads with Sorensen. He had been content material handing over the enterprise dealings to the Dane, which freed him to give attention to designing. However when Sorensen introduced on French dressmaker Christian Audigier to create a girls’s line, Cassel felt ostracized, believing that Audigier was not solely stepping on his toes but in addition drastically departing from the imaginative and prescient that Von Dutch was based upon.

So, Sorensen provided him a deal: Cassel might both pony up $2 million inside two weeks to purchase the corporate again or he’d should stroll away. Unable to even work out the place he might scrape collectively that amount of money, Cassel ended up being ousted from his personal firm.

Amid the infighting, backstabbing, and Cassel and Vaughn’s departures, Von Dutch’s recognition skyrocketed. Gross sales have been doubling month after month because of the frenzy over the trucker hats.

Whereas Sorensen and Audigier have been taking non-public jets and rubbing shoulders with celebrities who would cease by the shop and decide up baggage of free merchandise, Cassel and Vaughn have been out of the image.

“It simply actually did really feel like the right instance of how the playing cards have been stacked towards any individual like Mike,” Renzi explains. “That Mike simply was not ever meant to reach this world and it’s unhappy.”

From there, it’s a wild trip making an attempt to unravel what precisely went incorrect and who did who soiled, with every of the boys providing their very own model of occasions.

Cassel is cagey, by no means desirous to admit that he may need sicced Pablo Escobar’s son on Sorensen, who was accosted in his workplace and pointedly instructed to depart the corporate for $500,000 money at a time when Von Dutch was doing $400 million in annual gross sales.

Cassel is cagey, by no means desirous to admit that he may need sicced Pablo Escobar’s son on Sorensen, who was accosted in his workplace and pointedly instructed to depart the corporate for $500,000 money at a time when Von Dutch was doing $400 million in annual gross sales.

Vaughn dodges questions on being combined up with the deadly taking pictures in highschool and accuses Cassel of calling the cops on him when he tried to intimidate Cassel into getting his portion of the corporate again.

“My life has been insane, form of Forrest Gump on crack,” Vaughn says within the docuseries, as he explains how he ended up occurring trial for the first-degree homicide of Rivas, who he shot and killed in Feb. 2005 after a drunken battle the place Rivas slashed his neck with a damaged bottle.

(A jury acquitted Vaughn after ruling Rivas’ demise was justifiable murder.)

Boswell is depicted as bitter and with barely a penny to indicate for his work, watching from afar as Von Dutch reworked right into a monster model that was the polar reverse of what Howard would ever wish to be related to.

And Sorensen can’t see past Von Dutch as a enterprise, one thing he might simply stroll away from when it turned too difficult or when it ceased to learn him. In the meantime, Vaughn and Cassel noticed it as their probability to flee a life they have been desperately making an attempt to depart behind—a safe and legit constructing block that may pave the way in which towards a greater future for his or her households.

For Renzi, the story of Von Dutch isn’t a lot about pinning down who’s the resident villain however extra permitting every man to air their grievances and inform their model of occasions.

“At first it was irritating,” Renzi admits of making an attempt to pin down a solution, however he finally noticed it as a possibility to listen to everybody out—a real feat on condition that nobody was initially on board.

“Normally, whenever you get these tales, you do have a perspective that guides you from level A to level B,” he says. “One of many issues I like a lot about that is that I by no means got here out of it saying, right here’s the dangerous man, right here’s the nice man; right here’s the individual that was mendacity, right here’s the individual that was telling the reality. Everyone has a legitimate perspective on this story. All of them have a motive to be telling their story.”

“It’s heartbreaking to see what occurred with Mike and what occurred with Bobby,” he provides. “On the finish of the day, these two younger individuals of coloration have been doing one thing nice, regardless of all the issues that have been stacked towards them. They have been by no means actually welcomed in that enterprise, and so they tried their finest, and sadly, it actually form of spit them out in numerous methods, which is so unhappy.”

As for Von Dutch the model, it transmogrified right into a fad, as the emblem was slapped onto purses and canine garments, as a substitute of turning into a high-quality legacy American model, all due to greed, ego, and misaligned visions.

Or it could possibly be due to Howard’s Von Dutch curse—a transparent warning to not declare one thing that was by no means really yours to start with.

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