No 2000s style revival would truly be complete without a major comeback from Von Dutch, the brand that managed to make trucker hats a coveted fashion item.
With its instantly recognizable logo, bowler bags, baby tees and those aforementioned snapbacks, the label dominated the wardrobes of mid-aughts A-listers like Paris Hilton, Dennis Rodman, Ashton Kutcher, Gwen Stefani and Britney Spears.
Though for some it's intrinsically linked to that very specific era of celebrity, Von Dutch has found a new audience among the next generation of tastemakers, popping up on the Instagram feeds of Gen Z stars like Jordyn Woods, Emma Chamberlain, Megan thee Stallion and Alexa Demie.
This modern resurgence actually started back in 2016, when Kylie Jenner modeled skirts, shirts, and hats from the then-dormant brand on her social media. But it wasn't until Von Dutch re-opened its brick and mortar store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles in 2018 that its popularity really started to percolate.
Ed Goldman, Von Dutch's general manager, credits the brand's most recent explosion onto the fashion scene with the strategic choice to relocate its offices from Corona, California to the heart of L.A. There have also been changes to how the company is run: In 2019, Von Dutch decided to operate corporately, instead of through a licensee structure, allowing it to bring control over the brand's distribution and creative direction back in-house. (Since 2009, it's been owned by French footwear company Groupe Royer.)
Von Dutch also began investing in the L.A. community by dressing and collaborating with local artists. All of which, according to Goldman, has led up to their store's VIP area becoming today's hottest hangout for the who's who of Hollywood. That, combined with a whole lot of good luck — and even better timing — has made a recipe for Instagram gold.
"It has allowed us to seed a lot of product and build collaborations, all while trying to be very smart and strategic and nurture the renaissance and not just let it go crazy," he says of embedding the brand into L.A. "What we're trying to do is sprinkle in quite a few reintroductions of what was very traditional Von Dutch merchandise from the early 2000s — from logo treatments, fabrics, color, the reintroduction of denim — all while trying to be relevant to what's happening in the street fashion direction, which is dominating fashion and consumption today."
"It's happening in a very fast and furious way," Goldman adds. "It's a very unique phenomenon...I've never seen such a curiosity and love for what once was this pop culture phenomenon, but it's back for so many odd reasons and they're all good."
Goldman points to a sense of nostalgia for a bygone pop-culture era that Von Dutch's new clientele — mainly 12 to 24-year-olds — didn't get to experience the first time around as another key driver in the brand's revival. "I think it's the idea of newness and freshness with a sprinkle of, 'What was that all about back then?,'" he says, noting how the team has a "keepsake book" filled with pictures of the biggest celebrities of that specific time (think Britney and Justin) wearing the original pieces. Beyond nostalgia, the brand's story and its roots in California car culture also appeal to would-be shoppers, Goldman adds.
"If you walk up and down Melrose, Hollywood, Fairfax, Le Brea, you'll see just a ton of kids rocking the flying eyeball jogger. It's crazy," he continues. The appeal of Von Dutch is also cross-generational: "What's really enjoyable is to have that mother-daughter, father-daughter, father-son come into the store and both ages embrace it. A little flavor of the past for the parents and the kids battling their parents for their credit card."
Trend forecaster Louise Stuart Trainor agrees with Goldman's assessment of the appeal of this brand for a new generation. "One of the easiest ways to set yourself apart from the mainstream is to rediscover something cool from another era," she says of Gen Z's renewed interest in the label. "Enough time has passed to make Von Dutch intriguing to a younger generation. Unlike prior decades, the early 2000s are somewhat accessible given the proliferation of the internet and the quaint-but-relatable use of MSN Messenger and MySpace at the time."
Samantha Hince, another trend forecaster, further elaborates: "No generation previously has had access to their childhood memories in the same way as millennials, or felt so connected to [them]. Millennials have created a culture of #throwbackthursday and #flashbackfridays, seeking comfort in our childhood memories in times of anxiety and uncertainty...This stirs up an emotional reaction, which allows brands to tap into the market. By aligning consumers' memories with their own brand story, it creates an emotional connection and dialogue between them. In turn, this creates an opportunity for brands to make their product relevant and functional in today's life."
For a younger customer, Trainor argues, it's also about participating in an era of celebrity culture that "appears quite hedonistic and reckless from the perspective of young people in 2020. Life weighs heavily on the youth of today, and there is a sense of doom — nowhere more evident than the rise in eco anxiety. Brands like Von Dutch represent a seemingly playful and consequence-less time."
But as recent revivals like Baby Phat and Juicy Couture have proven, nostalgia alone isn’t enough to keep customers engaged with an early-noughties brand. "[Nostalgia] is successful for brands that remain true to their identity," Hince explains. "Consumers are looking for transparency and quality information from brands that they can trust…[which] needs to be maintained by continuously offering authentic experiences."
Trainor concurs: "It's all about creating something relevant, and leveling with consumers. Information is accessible, and young consumers in particular cannot be marketed to in any way that seems fraudulent or seeks to trick them...Revamped brands need to not take themselves too seriously."
This is a lesson the latest iteration of Von Dutch seems to have taken to heart, putting the client at the center of its relaunch, with the team seeking out customer feedback at its store to inform future product offerings. Goldman says. "On any given day we may see something happening that we think is interesting [on the street] and we try to take that information and apply it to what we should do directional."
All of the above has led to Von Dutch's most recent tour de force amongst celebrities and an endless struggle to keep their products in stock. Whether it's their signature designs covered in plastisol and patches or one of the newer reworked tie-dye and rhinestone-encrusted offerings, Goldman emphasizes, "[Celebrities] are all rocking the brand. We try to be very humble and try not to be arrogant, but we have a lot of success right now."
And with plans to introduce new designs on key artists at Coachella, as well as strategic partnerships with LA streetwear brand La Ropa and youth-focused retailers like Doll's Kill, it seems that the Von Dutch-aissance is just gearing up.