Hulu’s ‘The Curse of Von Dutch’ tells mesmerizing, sinister tale

Illustration of celebrities in Von Dutch attire
Aarthi Muthukumar/Senior Staff

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

What could be so ominous about a pink, bedazzled trucker hat that was once worn by socialites and celebrities alike? Well, that’s what Hulu documentary “The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand To Die For” attempts to answer by unmasking the names beyond Von Dutch, a champion of Y2K fashion. In three episodes, the documentary provides the thrilling tale of the leap of faith the brand grew on and how it subsequently fell on its face through cheesy yet well-done interviews, reenactments and archived clips. 

The three episode series surrounds the journey of the four self-proclaimed founders of the brand Von Dutch: Ed Boswell, Mike Cassel, Bobby Vaughn and Tonny Sorensen. While the faces behind the brand are lesser known to the public, what’s even more hidden is Kenny Howard, an artist most prominent in the 1920s for his pinstriping style that the brand’s aesthetic and name are based on. 

The documentary explores Howard’s legacy, and how as the company began to grow, less of Howard’s influence remained. Howard appears to those who continued his legacy as a menacing figure who would only bring bad luck — spawning the so-called curse of Von Dutch.

The flamboyant figures who found themselves in the middle of the company’s story are what make the show worthwhile. In the brand’s beginnings, Cassel and Vaughn birthed the brand Bronze Age (inspired by skate and surf culture) until they met Boswell, who owned the licensing to the Von Dutch name. Then Bronze Age transformed into Von Dutch, and Sorensen found himself at the center of ownership after floating the brand through near bankruptcy. 

In the progression of episodes, the focus on the maturity of Von Dutch unfolds later. Yet, the context and stories behind each founding member are intriguing enough to continue watching. For example, there’s Cassel’s history of drug dealing or Vaughn’s horrific story of bringing his friend (who was wanted for murder at the time) across the border. 

All of it may appear as a facade of hyperbole fluff, but the pieces of the puzzle end up fitting together as different personalities express their entanglement with one another, even though from astonishingly different and foreign backgrounds. If anything, that’s what makes the allure of not only the documentary, but the brand itself, stand out. The documentary illustrates that the brand represented a plethora of different personalities, figureheads and stories. 

Even though the hearsay back-and-forth portion of the documentary is important and relays glitzy commentary of a sketchy rags-to-riches story, what really makes the show come alive is its examination of Von Dutch’s initial success. Stories of Vaughn finessing his way into Tommy Lee’s bachelorette pad and using his MTV Cribs episode as a Von Dutch commercial, or Sorensen’s recount of when Whitney Houston was invited to the store and took hundreds of pieces harbor Von Dutch’s true legacy. Learning about the man behind the curtain is certainly interesting, but reliving and understanding the 2000’s celebrity fashion party culture is exceptionally nostalgic fun. 

The big reveal and downfall of Von Dutch’s success chronicle an important story of greed. Those who initiated the brand never got their fair share or recognition they sought to achieve, especially so with Boswell, who leaked a racist letter Howard wrote on his deathbed that promoted nazism. The letter would instigate an early onset of cancel culture, which inevitably plunged the brand into shameful irrelevancy. 

“The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand To Die For” is certainly a roller-coaster. One that shares faint memories of the ’90s and early 2000’s glitz and glamour, and in reexamining, confesses Von Dutch’s true identity of messiness, drugs and crime.

Contact Kaitlin Clapinski at [email protected].