From left to right: Photo by Bellocqimages / Bauer-Griffin / GC Images; Photo by L. Cohen / WireImage; Photo by Melodie Jeng / Getty Images
There are few things as inclusive from the early 2000s adorned with rhinestones as trash fashion. It was a time when even Topshop was seen in the pages of Vogue, and the midriffs were enthusiastically exhibited. Would the world have kept going without the “punch” of the Hilton sisters? slogan tank tops, those seedy “Miss June” Playboy necklaces or, above all, the iconic Von Dutch trucker cap? We think no!
After a few years in the shadows, Von Dutch joined Juicy Couture, Miss Sixty and even Groovy Chick on the list of labels to be resurrected by fashion’s frenzied obsession with its most chintzi era. But how exactly did a brand that borrows its name from a fanatical American pinstriper become the go-to for Kylie Jenner on a bad hair day?
It all started in 1999, when entrepreneurs Michael Cassel and Robert Vaughn acquired the rights to the original name Von Dutch from the family of Kenny Howard, who had died seven years earlier. A defining figure in the Southern California Kustom Kulture movement of the 1950s, where racers and performers came together to admire the latest and greatest custom vehicles. Kenny was renowned for his iconic fuel tanks sporting elegant freehand stripes, monstrous flying eyeballs, and tribal designs set ablaze in flames. Later in life, however, his racist and anti-Semitic statements would eventually overshadow his work.
When Vaughn and Cassel acquired the tarnished name, they decided to bring in French stylist and connoisseur Christian Audigier as creative director, tasking him with turning those bold graphics into big bucks for the brand. Originally from Avignon, the largest city in the denim heartland of France (the fabric’s name actually derives from ‘de Nîmes’, a nearby town), he had long been obsessed with American culture. After his father passed away, he dropped out of school and landed a job as a sales assistant that sparked the obsession with American vintage that eventually led him to launch his own denim brand, Top Sider.
After a trip to Bali that resulted in his imprisonment, Christian decided to start over in Los Angeles, fueled by the fantasies of the biker gangs and Route 66. “He wasn’t making a lot of money back then, but he had big dreams, ”says Fabrice Sopoglian, creator of the 2018 documentary Christian Audigier Le VIF. He first met his subject at a bar in the late ’90s, when the designer was running with Hollywood movie stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mickey Rourke. He had always dreamed of becoming a rockstar, “but unfortunately he didn’t have a good singing voice,” jokes the producer. So he did the next best thing and dressed them instead.
What made him successful, however, was that Christian was one of the first marketers to truly understand the importance of getting famous faces to wear your brand, and all this at a time when The nation’s eyes could not have been more focused on the One List. A key moment for Von Dutch came when a Britney Spears from the ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’ era stumbled upon the brand’s flagship product on Melrose Avenue on a sunny morning in 2002. Legend has it that Christian signaled the pop sensation and managed to graft it by accepting one of the brand’s signature caps as a gift. The following week, she and Justin Timberlake decided to quit, and the fallout from the Von Dutch logo ignited the tabloids
Photo by L. Cohen / WireImage
From that point on, everyone from Cheryl Cole to Missy Elliott, Jordan to – most notable of all – Paris Hilton wanted a piece of the trucking pie. Like the UGG fur boot or the terry cloth tracksuit from Juicy Couture, the brand has become a staple for celebrity off-license runs and gruesome walks of shame, all captured by salivating paparazzi. Anna Nicole Smith would even don her own custom Cowboy Trucker on Jimmy Fallon, complete with a matching baby pink bowling bag, a true take on Mc-Bling style.
At the height of Von Dutch’s success in 2004, however, Christian Audigier left his burgeoning empire following a dispute with investor Tony Sorensen over his desire to play a larger role in the business. He retaliated by creating an equally garish rival brand, Ed Hardy. As the 2010s approached and the sexy simplicity of brands like American Apparel became fashionable, life kicked Von Dutch in the eyes with a pair of Toms sneakers, relegating his colorful trucker hats from a true A-List favorite in the realm of nerdy Halloween costumes and eBay bargains.
Now back in service to LA’s entertainment elite, the brand has since wiped out all of its licenses and said goodbye to the mass marketing strategies that led to the dilution of the brand. Instead, he adopted a limited drop system based on sentiment, not season. “We didn’t really think about what it would become,” says Ed Goldman, Managing Director of Von Dutch, “it was just like, ‘What do we actually like? “”
After spotting the Y2K revival a mile away, he joined the team in 2019, tasked with designing exactly how Von Dutch would return to the top of the hat hierarchy. It made its way strategically, with stops along the way, including: the reconquest of its admittedly “empty” Melrose Avenue flagship; turning his iconic trucker hats into popular $ 89 items; bond with the Los Angeles hip-hop community – garnering endorsement from Travis Scott and Megan Thee Stallion, among others; and collaborating with a host of rising social media stars, from Emma Chamberlain to Lil Huddy.
Photo by Jamie McCarthy / VMN18 / Getty Images for MTV
“Around March 2020, there was a ton of social media interactions with prominent celebrities and rappers, and that’s what started the movement. It literally went from one to 100 overnight, ”says Goldman. “There hasn’t been a huge marketing effort on our part to try to revive Von Dutch. We just talked to a lot of people on the streets and really tried to connect with what matters in American culture today.
Infused with nostalgia as the brand’s reboot is, Goldman believes pivoting to a streetwear model – following in the footsteps of Palace and Supreme with drops and limited collaborations – is key to keeping things as fresh as possible for the future of the brand. Among those who have just joined Christelle Kocher, the founder of the Parisian label Koché. They have joined forces on a brand new capsule, its trajectory within the industry perfectly reflecting everything Von Dutch hopes to achieve with his return: embracing artisanal haute couture techniques while responding to fashion as it lives. and breathe on the streets.
“It’s like the Trucker girl becomes a woman and goes to Paris,” says Earl Pickens, the brand’s executive director of design, of the collaboration. Responsible for shaping the brand new vision for an entire generation that had never worn the logo, for him the effort is to elevate Von Dutch fundamentals, mixing the rough and rugged biker world and the scene. contemporary hip-hop. “There was also a feminine touch that I was looking for, and Christelle brought just that,” Earl continues, “she took our pinstriping and brought it to a new generation, glamor in a velvet bowling bag.”
Image courtesy of Koché
For Christelle, the opportunity was a dream come true. “It has been great reinterpreting such an iconic part of my life growing up,” says the designer, proudly admitting to regularly stealing her older brother’s Von Dutch trucker cap. A self-proclaimed pop culture obsessive, she has remained determined to keep the spirit of Von Dutch intact, while taking it to new heights with fine decorations and hand embroidery.
“The early 2000s was a time of people having fun. It was fun and, in a way, it was also a naïve time, ”says Kocher. “I think we all need more naive and spontaneous moments. Everything can seem pretty heavy these days and I think fashion has a role to play in making the world a little more fun and open. The Y2K style reminds people of that time and makes them smile. “
Of course, there are good reasons to be excited for Von Dutch’s viral comeback. But, as popular as they were in their heyday, “these weren’t the most innovative designs,” says Bridget Gushue, the eagle-eyed Instagramer and obsessed with the things behind @ literaltrash2004. “It’s a patch that says ‘Von Dutch’ on a trucker hat, but when Paris and Britney wore it, the world needed it.” While she might not like the excessive branding, she concedes that they are a faithful testament to the times, describing their comeback as the result of a millennial-fueled “perfect storm” that didn’t never really left the decade behind. “It also feels like the younger generation saw how colorful, vibrant, irreverent and fun fashion was of that time and wanted to bring that energy into the present,” adds Bridget.
Well, they did. From polka dot sliders and pastel pink graffiti tracksuits to a brand new Pride cap and an upcoming Hulu series detailing the brand’s rise and fall, it’s safe to say the brand is boosting its status in popular culture for a new one. generation. Love it or hate it, Von Dutch will always be an obsession some will deem worthy of exploiting.
Image courtesy of Koché
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