Part 1 (continued next page)
"TILL THE WHEELS FALL OFF"
A story about 1984 jeans.
And now for something completely different...
Bit of a ramble coming...but also some obscure and not so obscure denim history.
So way back in 1998- 1999 I was still skating every day. While buying fresh wheels I noticed a new pair of jeans, a denim jacket, along with a promo video, had showed up at my local skate shop.
The video was called "Let It Bleed" and the company was called 1984. The video was raw and rough and the skaters were very hesh, with a punk and metal soundtrack, opening up with Devo's "Gut Feeling" and featuring bootleg clips from crime movies in between the skating, I was instantly sold.
The jeans themselves were like a vintage 501 cut from a very hatchy yet soft washed denim with a dirty oil wash, slight taper and red stitching on the outseam to simulate a selvage line. Even had a red tab in the right spot that read "1984" and the button fly had vintage donut buttons. The inner tag announced that they were proudly Made in USA with "American hands" and invited the owner to wear them "Until the wheels came off". Vaguely hot rod inspired skate jeans made in the U.S.A. with an edgy name?
Of course I had to have them.
Now keep in mind that the premium denim explosion had not yet blown up and the fledgling Levis Vintage Clothing was barely 2 years old. The Japanese were already going full speed but the internet was not what it is today and access was very limited and retro inspired lines were not a dime a dozen yet. I think I has heard of "Evis" or EVISU but wouldn't know how to begin finding a pair.
So these fit the bill. I wore them like a vintage pair, with big turn ups and Chucks. I opened them up on Christmas Day 1999 along with my fresh wheels and a new Toy Machine beanie (pictured here with my son, age 2)
I still have the jeans stored away somewhere ( they were actually never great for skating) but never got the denim jacket which was basically a Levi's type 1 with different tags. Notice the selvedge edge!
Found one for sale on Depop but I'm not dropping $200 on it. Shown below:
Did anyone notice the branding on the copper donut buttons? Look closer.
Yes. THAT Von Dutch. Of low rise flares and $100 trucker cap fame.
But French designer Christian Audigier had not yet been brought on board and the ubiquitous trucker cap was still a few years from infamy.
Of course I knew who Von Dutch the artist was but had no idea why his name was on my jeans. Yet. As far as I was concerned this just added to the retro vibe of the pants.
But the whole planet was about to find out what the deal was.
Let's back up. The company Von Dutch originally started when the family of pin striper Kenny Howard, better known as Von Dutch, sold the rights to his name to a local businessman named Ed Boswell who started out selling flying eyeball patches and eventually a clothing line that leaned into the California hot rod/garage/retro/motorcycle subculture vibe that Von Dutch was a part of.
An early patch highlighting the retro garage vibe that Von Dutch launched with:
At some point very early on they decided to do a skateboarding line and that is what the 1984 brand was all about. The skate line was very short lived (maybe just one or two releases and many of the skaters would go on to form the Piss Drunx and later Baker Skateboards) and eventually the company would change hands altogether and the retro hot rod vibe would be almost entirely replaced by something much more garish and blingy after French designer Christian Audigier took over creative control in 2002 and the original owners were sidelined or forced out.
Below is an example of the over the top designs that Audigier popularized.
By 2003 the hats were suddenly everywhere in every color combo and iteration. And since the trucker cap is an easy to wear piece of iconic Americana, everyone got in in it. PUNK'D era Ashton Kutcher sticks out in my mind for some reason but when Brittany Spears was seen on the cover of People wearing one, they exploded overnight.
There is a pretty lengthy and entertaining documentary on Netflix about the rise and fall of Von Dutch as trendy high fashion that covers most of this so I won't go into too much detail here but like most trends, eventually the trucker hats lost popularity and when news of Kenny Howards's racist and Nazi sympathies came to light the brand , now derided as Von Douche, faded into obscurity. Apparently the name and hats have been trying to make a come back recently and although I'm hoping it fails for a second time we are about to experience a wave of Y2K nostalgia that might give them a boost. Next get ready for dirty denim to make a return!
Now if I could just find a used hat cheap enough I would definitely start wearing it just for the shits n giggles.
Ironically, after VD collapsed Audigier would go on to replicate that success by licensing and then bastardizing another infamous American artist with even more garish dreck: ED HARDY.
While I think Kenny Von Dutch Howard was Notsee scum who probably deserved to have his name dragged through the mud, Ed Hardy is an American icon whose work as a tattoo pioneer will forever be overshadowed by very ugly bedazzled t shirts.
But before all that we had a humble clothing line just fiding their identity and trying to carve out a little niche for themselves lmaking vintage inspired denim in the City of Angels a few years before the floodgates of premium denim opened up full bore and terms like raw denim and selvedge were still obscure terms.
If you read all the way to the end of this thank you for listening to me ramble and thank you for your time.
I will be following this up with a much shorter post of me wearing a pair of recently aquired dead stock Von Dutch jeans that I found and challenged myself to style.
Below: A hopelessly ugly pair of pocket-less women's Von Douche denim with far too many patches.