Von Dutch is one of those brands that has been both lauded and loathed in equal measure. Named after Kenny Howard – better known as “Von Dutch” – who was an artist, pinstriper, and motorcycle mechanic in the California “Kustom Kulture” scene since the 1950s
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the history of Von Dutch, from its rise to prominence in the early 2000s to its fall from grace.
Was Von Dutch a Real Person?
Von Dutch is a pseudonym for Kenny Howard, an American motorcycle mechanic, artist, gunsmith, and as revealed in his letters— a racist and Nazi sympathizer. However, Howard was not involved in the fashion label based on his name. The brand was created posthumously by his art fan.
Von Dutch Brand Had a Rocky Start
After the death of Kenny Howard in the 1990s, Ed Boswell who was a fan of Howard’s art acquired the rights from Howard’s daughters to use the name “Von Dutch” and started to sell Von Dutch patches at Los Angeles art events.
Ed Boswell, Michael Cassel, and Bobby Vaughn met at a trade show and formed an apparel company together. Cassel was an ex-drug deal and Vaughn was a surfer.
They started out by simply removing Dickie’s labels and replacing them with Von Dutch’s. Cassel was hustling them to celebrities he knew such as Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, which helped them get exposure.
In the beginning, they couldn’t make any money, but Cassel and Vaughn bought Boswell shares and got Tonny Sorensen to invest in the company. Sorensen became CEO, and a French designer, Christian Audigier, was brought on board to help with the design of the brand.
Von Dutch Trucker Hats Were a Hit
Audigier designed the trucker hats and they immediately became a hit. The style was inspired by the classic Americana motorcycle cap.
Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Jay-Z, Gwen Stefani, and many other A-listers were seen sporting the Von Dutch trucker hats. The Von Dutch brand was at its peak in the 2000s, making over a billion dollars in sales.
What Makes a Von Dutch Trucker Hat So Unique?
The Von Dutch trucker hat practically sells itself because of its unique design. The hats are made with high-quality materials and feature a sewn-on patch with the Von Dutch name and eye-catching designs.
Paris Hilton called the hats “playful, cute, and iconic”. Dennis Rodman who was a Von Dutch fan in the 2000s said “People didn’t know what [Von Dutch] meant. They just wanted to wear it.”
The trucker hats were priced at $85, making them a high-end accessory. That added to the bling factor.
How Von Dutch Turned Into Von Douche
Von Dutch’s popularity began to fade in the late 2000s after a string of issues. After being a luxury brand for years, it stopped being trendy after everyone was wearing it. It was the second most counterfeited brand, after Louis Vuitton.
Sorenson, Vaughn, and Cassel were fighting over the company. Bobby Vaughn was arrested for murdering his roommate. And Boswell, out of resentment, leaked a letter from Howard showing that Howard was a racist and a Nazi admirer.
Sorenson ended up as the sole owner of Von Dutch and sold the brand to Groupe Royer, a French footwear company.
Von Dutch was a very successful brand in the early 2000s, but it fell from grace after a series of scandals in the late 2000s. The brand is now owned by a French company, Groupe Royer, and designed by an American fashion designer, Earl Pickens.
Von Dutch is making a come back in the Los Angeles Hip Hip scene. So, it will be interesting to see how the brand develops in the next few years!