Dutch in a dhoti: American brand Von Dutch arrives in India
The American brand Von Dutch has arrived in India. But this is not the only land on its radar. ET talks to CEO Terry Hauss about this Kustom Kulture brand's renaissance.
From Tacoma to Tokyo, the name Von Dutch has appeared on many a hat, shirt, pant, shoe, energy drink, and all things in between. Danish entrepreneur Tonny Sorensen and French designer Christian Audigier helped popularise and commercialise it in the mid-2000s. All it took really was celebrities like Madonna and Justin Timberlake to wear these creations, particularly an American trucker hat, motorcycle jacket and t-shirt. However, the brand's beginnings were rather humble and light years away from the consumerist venture it grew to become. It began life as a very niche, American cult brand.
Kenny Howard aka Von Dutch was the quintessential, often tortured American artist. Revered by his customers (the likes of Steve McQueen) and fans, he was the ultimate pinstriper (the art of creating custom designs with fine lines of paint on automobiles), the creator of the flying, bloodshot eyeball and one of the founding fathers of the Kustom Kulture movement. In 1992, the year he died, Howard lettered a manifesto of sorts which said "Use any of my stuff you want to. Nothing is original. Everything is in the subconscious, we just "tap" it sometimes and "think" we have originated something." However, the man was to meet the same fate as Argentinean revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, in a fashion sense of course.
The only difference is the fact that instead of Howard's face plastered on the backs of pants and backpacks, it's the name, the Von Dutch signature that became the fashionable must-have. Its rebel mystique, history and legend are all but lost on new generations of trend gobblers. In fact, most of the Von that made the brand Dutch has vanished; "As Stubborn as a Dutchman" or Von Dutch was a title created to describe Howard's general disposition.
Couple this identity crisis with a growing number of aggressive casual fashion newcomers targeting a restless population of young consumers always on the look-out for the next cool thing and the bottom line is the brand was lost. In 2009 Von Dutch was purchased by the French Groupe Royer. What followed was a period when it withdrew from the market.
It is only over the past couple of years that the company is attempting to revive Von Dutch and take it back to its edgy, counter-culture origins. According to Terry Hauss, CEO, Von Dutch, when Groupe Royer acquired the brand they realised they needed to take it back to its grass roots and the man behind it, Kenny Howard. And so they began to retell the story of the original Von Dutch. "And get back to the DNA of the brand, which was Kustom Kulture and a very famous artist," says Hauss.
They began re-launching the brand in countries other than the United States, including markets in LatAm (Brazil), Europe (Italy) and Asia. For instance, says Hauss, "We now have over 100 points of sale in the Philippines and 30 in Thailand. We have also licensed in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan and are in the final stage of negotiations with other markets of South East Asia."
And more recently the group tied up with Dream Theatre, the company that will manage the brand in India as their official licensing agency. "Now that Von Dutch has a stronghold in Asia and has designated design teams and manufacturers, we felt that this might be an added value for Dream Theatre to mirror what we are doing in other Asian markets and offer a turnkey package, where the goods, look of the shops, fixtures, et cetera, can offer instant access to the brand." Also Von Dutch is currently in conversation with another iconic American brand Harley Davidson for a joint brand venture. "Harley Davidson and Von Dutch go hand in hand,” says Hauss.
While fashion brand Diesel has been present in India since 2010, it was in late 2012 when British cultclothes maker Super Dry entered the market with its first store in Mumbai. "A retail presence of course is the best marketing a company can do. It is like screenless television," says Hauss.
For now though it's via social media campaigns with a sprinkling of traditional advertising that Hauss and his people have been familiarising consumer populations across markets and will do the same here. "The feeling in all of the advertising campaigns is consistent from market to market," he adds.
So now that Von Dutch is alive and kicking again and on its way back to revive some of those cult characteristics that fuelled its popularity in the past, the only question left to ask is can a brand patronised by millions of consumers around the world ever feel truly Kustom again?
Well, for starters, perhaps this time they ought to steer their hot-rod clear of the material girl and the boy who wants to bring sexy back.