KEEP ON TRUCKIN’
In his thoughts, it was impossible to miss the feeling that it was Von Dutch.
What started is when a small counterculture brand intent on creating high-quality denim suddenly exploded onto the scene.
The Venice Beach-based label is known for its iconic truck caps stamped with scribbled signature logos, popularized by the likes of Ashton Kutcher, Jay Z, Madonna, Britney Spears, and of course: that are the girls of the era Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. , who mostly wore Von Dutch’s camouflage pants and fire hat when they traded glittering Los Angeles for Easy life.
Then suddenly, Von Dutch disappeared. It has become an eerie relic of popular culture history.
Now, Hulu’s new three-part docuseries, Von Dutch’s Curse: A Brand To Die, premieres on November 18, shedding light on the little-known behind-the-scenes mayhem at the notorious label, revealing sinister infighting, dirty legal tricks, revenge, and even revenge. even threats from Pablo Escobar’s family. It all culminates in the murder and demise of a once-emerging fashion company.
While the name Von Dutch is primarily synonymous with Y2K fashion, not many are familiar with the name of the brand: Los Angeles artist and motorcycle mechanic Kenny Howard.
A legendary figure of the hot rod culture of the 1950s and ’60s, Howard was a swashbuckling gunman, alcoholic and overall idiot, but is widely regarded as the father of modern auto jog technique.
Howard has a keen eye and artistic flair, but unlike other artists, he is one-sided when it comes to his work and his artworks. “Use whatever of mine you want,” Howard’s manifesto is quoted in the archives. “Nothing is original. Everything is subconscious, sometimes we just ‘touch’ it and think we have rooted something. Genes make us more or less interested in certain things, but nothing is really original! Copyright and patents are essentially a ride of the ego.”
But ironically, Von Dutch turned into a flashy, low-priced clothing company that was finally unraveled after a thrilling duel between a frenzied cast of characters who each believed the brand belonged. about them.
“When I think about the curse, I think it never belonged to anyone in the first place,” director Andrew Renzi explained to The Daily Beast. “You get this Raiders of the Lost Ark the exclusive thing, where this logo belongs to no one but this man who passed away and never wanted this to happen in the first place, is attracting all these people. I find that fascinating because it’s true. It just leaves ruins and that’s because people are obsessed with the idea that it’s theirs and that they deserve it and that they should have it. “
At the heart of the battle are three men: Ed Boswell, Mike Cassel, and Robert “Bobby” Vaughn.
Boswell was the first to claim the name. After Howard died in 1992 at the age of 63 from liver problems from drinking too much alcohol, his daughters sold the rights to bear his name to Boswell, a fan of hot rod culture and a turmeric dealer. art, who started selling stickers featuring Von Dutch’s signature and his iconic flying eyeball graphics.
At a trade show in 1996, Boswell met Cassel. who started the famous Bronze Age skateboard/surf/gangster clothing brand Venice Underground but lost the company after a bad business deal and was looking for his next idea.
Cassel has a reputation as a ruthless mobster, largely due to his past as a drug lord, whose ties to associates of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar helped push cocaine onto the West Coast. After a short time in prison for drug possession, Cassel finally wanted to be released legally.
Armed with a knack for spinning gold out of dust, Cassel believes he’s finally found something in Von Dutch. But Cassel had a “strange Midas touch,” as an old friend described it. Anything Cassel touched could have turned to gold, but two seconds later it would “go to hell”.
Vaughn, the youngest of the three men, appears in the photo while Cassel was still running the Bronze Age, a movie that Cassel largely used to launder his drug money. An outcast friend, Vaughn is also looking to turn his life around after being entangled in a shootout while in high school.
Boswell, Cassel and Vaughn launched Von Dutch clothing as a team, with the vision of creating the next iconic American denim line — the next Wrangler or Levi’s. But it didn’t take long for the infighting to begin, with Cassel repeatedly headbutting Boswell and eventually forcing him out of the company.
From there, things began to spiral out of control. In dire need of funds, Cassel turned to Danish investor Tonny Sorensen, a wealthy former taekwondo champion who had come to Los Angeles to try his hand at acting.
Sorensen became CEO in 2000, injecting money into the company and doing some of the necessary structure, bringing in his own people to lead the sales and marketing departments.
The move left Vaughn feeling sidelined and his efforts to help Von Dutch gain some traction with guerrilla marketing tactics, including the Tommy Lee and some girls in his mansion prepare for an episode of MTV Crib, was omitted.
He is pushed further and further away from Von Dutch, causing him to reconnect with Mark Rivas, a high school friend Vaughn helped escape across the Mexican border after a deadly shooting. In the end, Sorensen considered Vaughn more of a headache than an asset, and in a sly legal ploy, bought out Vaughn’s stake in the company and fired him.
Kicking off a franchise he’d helped build, Vaughn quickly went downhill – pulling deeper into the gangster world Rivas ran, becoming focused on finding his way back to Von Dutch, and taking it with him. a lingering grudge against Sorensen and Cassel, whom he feels have left him. in wobble.
Meanwhile, Cassel was headbutting Sorensen. He was satisfied when he handed over the business transactions to Dane, which allowed him to focus on the design. But when Sorensen brought in French fashion designer Christian Audigier to create a line for women, Cassel felt ostracized, believing that Audigier had not only stepped on the spot but had strayed from the vision Von Dutch had envisioned. found.
So Sorensen offered him a deal: Cassel could raise $2 million within two weeks to buy the company or he would have to go. Unable to even figure out where to accumulate that cash, Cassel was eventually ousted from his own company.
Between the infighting, backstabbing, and the departures of Cassel and Vaughn, Von Dutch’s popularity skyrocketed. Sales have doubled month after month due to the frenzy over trucker hats.
While Sorensen and Audigier were photographing private jets and side-by-side with celebrities who would drop by the store and pick up free bags, Cassel and Vaughn stood out.
“It really feels like a perfect example of how the cards are stacked against someone like Mike,” explains Renzi. “That Mike was never meant to be successful in this world and sadly.”
From there, it’s been a wild ride trying to figure out exactly what happened and who messed up, with each man coming up with their own version of events.
“Cassel was tough, never wanting to admit that he might have made Pablo Escobar’s son sick because of Sorensen, who was appointed to his office and assigned to leave the company with 500,000 dollars in cash at a time when Von Dutch was hitting $400 million in annual sales.”
Cassel was tough, never wanting to admit that he might have made Pablo Escobar’s son sick because of Sorensen, who was appointed to his office and assigned to leave the company with 500,000 dollars in cash at a time when Von Dutch was hitting $400 million in annual sales.
Vaughn dodged questions regarding the fatal high school shooting and accused Cassel of calling the police on him when he tried to threaten Cassel to take back his share of the company.
“My life is crazy, like Forrest Gump on crack,” Vaughn said in the archives, as he explained how he ended his trial for the first-degree murder of Rivas, whom he shot and killed in February 2005 after a drunken fight wine, where Rivas cut his throat. bottle.
(A jury acquitted Vaughn after ruling Rivas’ death a rightful murder.)
Boswell is portrayed as bitter and with barely a penny to show for his work, watching from afar as Von Dutch transforms into a brand of monster that is the complete opposite of what Howard wants to be associated with.
And Sorensen couldn’t see Von Dutch as a business, something he could easily overlook when it got too complicated or when it stopped working in his favor. Meanwhile, Vaughn and Cassel see it as an opportunity for them to escape the lives they’re desperately trying to leave behind — a safe and legal building block that will pave the way toward a good future. better for their family.
For Renzi, Von Dutch’s story isn’t so much about defining who the villains are, but allowing each man to voice their grievances and tell their version of events.
“It was frustrating at first,” admits Renzi trying to pin down an answer, but eventually he sees it as an opportunity to hear people say it — a real feat that wasn’t available at first. who is on board.
“Usually, when you get these stories, you have a perspective that guides you from point A to point B,” he says. “One of the things I really like about this is that I never said, this is the bad guy, this is the good guy; this is the person who lied, this is the person who told the truth. Everyone has a valid point of view in this story. They all have reasons to tell their stories. “
“It’s heartbreaking to see what happened to Mike and what happened to Bobby,” he added. “At the end of the day, these two young people of color have done something wonderful, despite all that is going against them. They were never really welcome in that business, and they tried their best, and unfortunately that really put them off in a lot of ways, which is sad. ”
As for the Von Dutch brand, the brand has morphed into a fad, as the logo is affixed to purses and dog clothes, rather than becoming a high-quality legacy American brand, all for the sake of heart. greed, ego and distorted vision.
Or it could be Howard’s Dutch curse – a stark warning not to ask for something that was never really yours to begin with.
How Von Dutch’s Trucker Hat Empire Ended in Chaos and Death [Daily Beast]
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April 7, 2022