Welcome to W TV Club, in which W magazine’s editors choose a television show they’d recommend you binge-watch. Our November picks will be a selection of docuseries. This week, culture editor Brooke Marine recommends The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For, an investigation of the complex origins of the iconic aughts fashion brand.
It’s safe to say there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes drama for just about any brand, especially when it comes to fashion. But The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For, a three-part Hulu docuseries about the California fashion brand, takes things a step further.
The documentary opens with—who else?—Paris Hilton, catching a denim Von Dutch trucker hat tossed to her from off camera. She was perhaps one of the most prolific icons who adorned herself with those trucker hats in the aughts (other fans of the brand during that decade included Anna Nicole Smith, Carmen Electra, Dennis Rodman, Britney Spears, and even Jay-Z). Then it hints at the meat of the docuseries: drugs, money laundering, and murder play a big part in the story of Von Dutch.
But before we get into the murder of it all, the viewer is presented with a question: who created Von Dutch? There are, of course, discrepancies within the answer. There’s also the myth that the original Von Dutch (a mechanic and visual artist named Kenneth Robert Howard known for popularizing the flames and pinstripes aesthetics on cars) put a curse on the name when his family sold it and the brand went Hollywood.
So who did create Von Dutch Originals—was it Ed Boswell, the art collector; Bobby Vaughn, the misfit surfer and wannabe gangster; or Mike Cassel, the former drug dealer and founder of Bronze Age apparel, which effectively became Von Dutch? It depends on who you ask, but each of them, as seen in the documentary, will tell you they were the one that started the brand. Von Dutch played on working class aesthetics (which is why it is ironic that it eventually became synonymous with celebrity culture), and the logo, based on Howard’s signature, became one of the most iconic fashion symbols of the aughts. Who knew there was so much mayhem behind it?