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Stream It Or Skip It: 'The Curse Of Von Dutch: A Brand To Die For' On Hulu, A Docuseries About The Murderous, Drug-Fueled Existence Of The Bold Fashion Brand – Decider

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The Curse Of Von Dutch: A Brand To Die For is a three-part docuseries, directed by Andrew Renzi, that goes over the murderous, drug-fueled history of the fashion brand Von Dutch. The company, founded in 1999, and its distinctive logo fashioned after the signature of hot rod artist Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard, was made most famous by celebrities like Paris Hilton, Tommy Lee, Dennis Rodman, and others. But it was also the wardrobe of choice for pretty much all of your Linkin Park-loving friends in the early 2000s. The brand was an outcropping of the surf, skate, and drug culture in Venice Beach and Long Beach, California, but its founding and existence has been anything but chill.
Opening Shot: Paris Hilton sits for an interview, as a sound engineer fixes her microphone and someone else touches up her hair. She’s then thrown a trucker hat with the Von Dutch logo on it.
The Gist: The first episode goes over the beginnings of the brand, starting with Ed Boswell, who had gotten the rights to Von Dutch’s name and signature, and was working on putting patches with the distinctive mark on already-made clothing. Boswell, who does his interview lying down, basically says “fuck ’em in the neck” when the other two founders of Von Dutch are mentioned.
Those guys, Robert Vaughn and Michael Cassel, partnered up to take what Boswell was doing and create a fashion brand out of it. But the episode goes extensively into Vaughn’s upbringing, where his Asian background and looks made him alienated from the family that adopted him as well as people he went to school with. He turned to dealing drugs and hanging with gang members like his friend Mark Rivas, and he also started admiring a local clothing brand called Bronze Age, started by Cassel.
The brand continued even as Cassel went to prison; he had used the company to launder drug money. But when he got out, he dedicated himself to the fashion business. Vaughn went to Cassel, hoping to work for Bronze Age, and the two grew the brand together, until Cassel sold it for the way-too-low sum of $35,000. So, looking for a new brand, they found Boswell, and with seed money from Cassell’s brother, they created the Von Dutch Originals clothing line.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The Curse Of Von Dutch has a similar feel to discovery+’s docuseries Curse Of The Chippendalesand not just because both have the word “curse” in the title. It’s more of a case where the “curse” isn’t really a curse, but a series of events that happened because the people involved with both businesses were also involved in sketchy ventures that may or may not have helped fund their primary companies.
Our Take: The Curse Of Von Dutch is one of those docuseries that feels like it would have been better off as a 90-minute documentary film instead of a three-hour series. Even in the first episode, Renzi stretches the story to the point where it’s almost transparent, giving extended time to Vaughn’s time with Mark Rivas and Cassel’s original clothing venture, Bronze Age.
Sure, all of that is germane to how Von Dutch was created, but it feels that Renzi whiffed on a real opportunity to show the rivalry between Boswell and Cassel, with Vaughn caught in the middle. As the brand took off, with Vaughn connecting with Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, and having a child with their first model and initial investor, Eli Jane, Boswell was becoming less relevant.
We would have wanted more details of just how Cassel squeezed out Boswell, and how Boswell lost out on the company’s sizable profits down the line. Instead we get romanticized stories of Vaughn’s gang days and Cassel’s badassery, complete with annoying dramatic reenactments.
Also, more info on Kenny Howard, Von Dutch himself, would have been helpful. It feels like there may be more of that in the other two episodes, but we think some background on where the “look” of the Von Dutch brand came from would have been better than the bro-filled ramblings of Vaughn, which seemed to dominate the episode.
Sex and Skin: Some brief nudity when the expansion of the brand is being discussed, but that’s it.
Parting Shot: Tonny Sørensen, the investor Cassel found to bail out the Von Dutch brand when it was hemorrhaging money, laughs when the director tells him that Cassel says he’s the creator of Von Dutch.
Sleeper Star: Ed Boswell does his interview lying down, as we said, in a bedroom that’s basically just slightly bigger than his bed. For some reason, we admire that. We also admire him saying “fuck ’em in the neck” about both Vaughn and Cassel.
Most Pilot-y Line: We wish filmmakers used dramatic reenactments sparingly, but Renzi depends on them way too much, and they’re not particularly well-done.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Though The Curse Of Von Dutch: A Brand To Die For involves colorful characters, it feels like the producers and directors focused too much on those characters and not on the actual brand and the “curse” behind it.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
Stream The Curse Of Von Dutch On Hulu
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