‘The Curse of Von Dutch’ — how the model grew to become ‘Von Douche’


What occurs when a aggressive surfer-turned-small time gangster, a convicted drug vendor and a world martial arts champion launch a style line?

It turns into the largest model on this planet.

Britney Spears donning a Von Dutch trucker hat.
Britney Spears donning a Von Dutch trucker hat.

No label captured early 2000s fashion fairly like Von Dutch — an informal line of denim, T-shirts, jackets and trucker hats favored by the period’s brightest stars, akin to Paris Hilton, Dennis Rodman, Britney Spears and Jay-Z. At a second when the top of favor was a midriff-baring tank high paired with scandalously low-slung denims, the scrawled Von Dutch brand was ubiquitous, exhibiting up in all places from rowdy faculty campuses to the purple carpet. 

However as a brand new docuseries reveals, overexposure and a feud over the way forward for the model would finally kneecap Von Dutch’s development and condemn the model to early 2000s infamy.

Dennis Rodman, Jay-Z and Paris Hilton all wearing Von Dutch trucker hats.
Dennis Rodman, Jay-Z and Paris Hilton all sporting Von Dutch trucker hats.
Jim Smeal/BEI/Shutterstock; Image Excellent/Shutterstock; WireImage

“At its most aspirational, it was Levi’s,” Andrew Renzi, director of Hulu’s “The Curse of Von Dutch,” out Thursday, instructed The Publish. He mentioned Von Dutch’s unique ethos was all about “James Dean [and] scorching rod tradition,” with the originators getting down to create “an actual, true American heritage model, one thing that basically represented Americana.”

To do that, California-based duo Michael Cassel (a self-described “outlaw” who served four years in San Quentin after a cocaine bust) and Bobby Vaughn (a surfer and mannequin, who narrowly evaded arrest after his involvement in a 1993 taking pictures) appeared to the legacy of the deceased artist and mechanic Kenny Howard, a ok a “Von Dutch.” Howard pioneered the modern artwork of pinstriping — customizing automobiles and bikes with skinny, ornamental traces — and created various memorable drawings, together with a flying eyeball with wings that Cassel and Vaughn featured of their nascent clothes line’s iconography.

Bobby Vaughn and Mike Cassel
Bobby Vaughn (left) and Mike Cassel based the clothes line collectively, impressed by the artwork of Kenny Howard, a ok a Von Dutch.

Howard’s daughters permitted the license, and by the late 1990s, Von Dutch had a small however loyal following amongst rebels and outcasts. “Youngsters undergo a stage the place they like punk rock, they like rebellious issues, and ‘f–ok that’ anarchy, proper? He was that in his artwork, he was that in his actions, he was utterly in opposition to the grain,” Cassel says of Howard’s attraction.

Sadly, Cassel’s legal file made it virtually unimaginable for the road to develop, as a result of nobody would lend him cash. By the yr 2000, he was on the hunt for a non-public investor.  

Tonny Sorensen
Tonny Sorensen took 51% management of Von Dutch together with his preliminary funding.

He discovered one in Tonny Sorensen, a 6-foot-6 Danish former Olympian and Taekwondo champion who had initially come to Los Angeles to pursue a profession as an motion star. At first, Sorensen — who took 51% management of the model with a million-dollar funding — and Cassel shared the same imaginative and prescient for Von Dutch (“scorching rods and rolled up T-shirts and actually onerous denim,” mentioned Renzi). However as time handed and Sorensen discovered himself dropping cash, he received determined. He introduced in a French designer named Christian Audigier to spice up gross sales. 

Gwen Stefani
Gwen Stefani sporting Von Dutch in 2003.
Getty Pictures

Audigier — who would finally launch a line of infamous tattoo-inspired T-shirts referred to as Ed Hardy — had a completely completely different imaginative and prescient for Von Dutch. “It was a lot extra flamboyant,” Renzi mentioned. “It was louder, as a result of Christian’s thought of America was Michael Jackson. Christian was obsessive about Michael Jackson, obsessive about the actually loud aptitude of America.”

Quickly, Audigier’s flashy designs — from sequin baseball caps to rhinestone tees to patent-leather bowling baggage — took off.

Tommy Lee wore Von Dutch on his 2000 episode of “MTV Cribs” (a primary placement that Vaughn organized, including within the movie that Sorensen rewarded him by tricking him into signing over his rights to the corporate). Audigier employed Tracey Mills, brother of NBA star Chris Mills, to get items on his celeb associates, akin to Brandy and Usher. 

Von Dutch had a coverage of by no means charging celebrities for something they picked out on the shops.

As soon as, Whitney Houston and her entourage got here in and picked up one in all each single merchandise. Within the collection, Sorenson says a gross sales clerk got here to verify with him that it wasn’t an excessive amount of. 

Hillary Duff wearing Von Dutch coated jeans.
Hillary Duff rocking Von Dutch’s coated denims.
Erik Pendzich/Shutterstock

As he remembers it, “I mentioned to them, ‘Have you ever ever heard her voice? Have you ever ever heard her sing? Do you keep in mind ‘The Bodyguard?’ Like, give her 30 baggage, as a result of she’s the very best singer I’ve ever heard in my life and I nonetheless get goosebumps.’”

Paris Hilton and Jeremy Scott
Paris Hilton chatting with Jeremy Scott clad in Von Dutch and Juicy Couture — accessorized with a flip cellphone.

However no one championed the model like Paris Hilton, who on the time was selling her tongue-in-cheek 2003 actuality present “The Easy Life” together with her finest pal Nicole Richie.

“It was free, it was playful, it was cute, it was iconic,” Hilton mentioned of Von Dutch within the collection. Audigier, she says, gave her and Richie “no matter we needed … That was like, our uniform for the present.”

By 2003, Von Dutch was raking in tens of millions of {dollars} every month, with the doc suggesting it was essentially the most counterfeited brand after Louis Vuitton. Celebrities have been “the ‘X’ issue for them,” Renzi mentioned. “They have been getting influencers earlier than that was a factor … The distinction then is that magazines would come out as soon as per week or as soon as a month, and so it actually did create a craziness round this model, as a result of each month, Us Weekly or no matter would come out and everybody can be in a Von Dutch hat within the journal.”

Halle Berry in a Von Dutch jersey tee.
Halle Berry in a Von Dutch jersey tee.
Image Excellent/Shutterstock

For Vaughn and Cassel, the success was not so candy. 

Kylie Jenner
Is Kylie Jenner bringing again Von Dutch?
FameFlynet.Biz/Splash Information

In 2002, Cassel misplaced the battle for artistic management and he was compelled out, unable to lift the cash to purchase out Sorensen. He watched, helpless and broke, because the model he cherished light away.

“They took this factor that I created, my child, and so they prostituted it,” Cassel says on the finish of Episode 2.

Finally, even Sorensen got here to query Audigier’s judgment as he churned out an increasing number of Von Dutch merchandise — with gadgets for teenagers and pets showing in shops — to the purpose that by 2004, the once-hot label got here to be recognized, disparagingly, as “Von Douche.”

“If you see canines sporting Von Dutch, it’s simply not cool anymore,” mentioned Renzi. 

Sorensen finally offered his stake, and Audigier jumped ship in 2007. (He died in 2015.) “They sort of exhausted themselves,” Renzi mentioned. “They made a bunch of cash and it was a profitable firm, however it was on the expense of longevity.”