The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For

A few weeks ago I saw a suggestion come across my Hulu welcome screen entitled “The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For”. My first impression was that I knew all about the brand, especially the many details of how it was counterfeited into oblivion. Either way, I knew I wanted to watch it to see if my account was correct or if there was more to the story.

Turns out, as comprehensive as I thought my perspective might have been, there were some things I missed, or was not privy to. I worked for their lawyers during the peak enforcement process and I knew things were a little off. And this documentary helps bring that to light.

Bobby Vaughn and Mike Cassel were two surfer dudes who appropriated the IP of a counterculture icon named Kenny Howard a.k.a. Von Dutch (1929-1992). Howard’s philosophy about Intellectual Property was that no one owned anything and that all creativity was meant for the world to share. So, in 1999, Vaughn and Cassel spun off the Von Dutch brand from another fashion line they had that was not doing well.

Before Bobby and Mike knew it, the Von Dutch brand took off. Celebrities were all over it, wearing their apparel on every television channel available. Along with the success of the brand came organized criminals they had previously tapped for startup funds. This made life difficult because there were established cartel captains that demanded cuts from the sales.

But the two surfer dudes, as savvy creatives as they were, could not manage the explosive success of this brand. It was then that they welcomed investors and a CEO from Europe. All of a sudden, French fashion designer Christian Audigier was the face of the brand. Christian blew the brand up to levels no one dreamed. But, as the genuine product sales grew, the counterfeit sales grew exponentially.

“Here’s the problem. When you are already a logo-driven brand where your logo is your main seller its easy to slap a logo on a piece of thing and sell it and call it Von Dutch. We were the second most counterfeited brand in the world next to Louis Vuitton.” ~ European Investor Tonny Sorensen.

This was where my team and I came in. In the early 2000’s, counterfeiting fashion brands on the Internet was at its peak. Yes, the flea markets and street vendors were also going bananas, but Internet sales were new, and I was the guy that handled these types of cases.

What was discovered was that the folks behind this brand never laid a proper foundation for enforcement. They didn’t spend the few cents per item required to tag the genuine goods properly so that they could be differentiated from the fake. By the time they brought in the proper attorneys and investigators, the problem was out of control there was very little that could be done.

“In the height of our business, we were doing probably around the $300 to $400 million mark. The counterfeits were north of a billion for sure.”~ Niels Juul, Von Dutch investor

I’ve met both of the original creatives Bobby and Mike during my years living in Venice Beach and find their stories fascinating. I don’t blame them for the counterfeiting problem (bringing in the cartels is another story). But, when the European investors came in and hired high-priced attorneys corners were cut while people were too busy making money.

The lesson to learn here is that, before your brand takes off, make sure you have already laid the foundation for a good enforcement plan. We can help you with that. Contact us at MI:33 and we will be glad to get things going for you.

Good Food + Bad Laws = Unlikely Hero

Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘N Waffles is a Los Angeles soul food restaurant and a staple of local cuisine since the 1970’s. The strange flavor combination along with its addictive recipe has gone unquestioned for decades, and has been immortalized by pop culture figures such as Quentin Tarantino, Ludacris, Will Smith, and Snoop Dogg.

Continue reading “Good Food + Bad Laws = Unlikely Hero”

Why Felix the Cat is a Detective Hero

Felix ChevroletI was running an errand the other day in Downtown Los Angeles. As a big fan of classic Hollywood and detective fiction, I relish in the landmarks and mainstays, from the outdoor urban paradise of MacArthur Park to the crowds of bustling travelers at Union Station; from the authentic Hispanic heritage so beautifully displayed on Olvera Street to the architectural marvel of the Bradbury building (where, by the way, the most cinematic scene from “Blade Runner” was shot). But none of them tickle me as much as the iconic Felix the Cat sign atop the almost century-old Felix Chevrolet. Continue reading “Why Felix the Cat is a Detective Hero”

The Problem With Hyde

One of the greatest reads in my entire life was Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th century novella “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde“.  In this, Stevenson tells the story of an attorney who is investigating the evil acts of a man who calls himself Edward Hyde.  The investigation leads him to find that Hyde is actually an alternate personality of his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll.  Since the publishing of this story, the Jekyll/Hyde concept is one of the most celebrated and imitated in all of literature.  This is because it is, in my opinion, the most relevant piece of fiction in all of sociology, psychology and criminology.  Ever. Without exception. Continue reading “The Problem With Hyde”

Are you a Salmon or a Bear?

Sport fishing is a $125 billion dollar industry.  No matter how good man gets at it, he is nothing compared to the Alaskan grizzly bear.  At first glance you would describe one of these formidable creatures as large brutes.  But let me tell you something.  Although most of us know that this so-called brute is a fast runner, many folks don’t know that this beautiful creature is so agile, patient and graceful that they can catch Salmon with their teeth even when their quarry is swimming at full speed.

One of the best films of the 1980s is Michael Mann’sManhunter“.  In this film our protagonist FBI agent Will Graham has a conversation with our favorite psychopathic psychiatrist, the brilliant Hannibal Lecktor, through prison bars:

      Graham admits, “I know that I’m not smarter than you.”  

     Lecktor then inquires, “Then how did you catch me?”

     “You had disadvantages.”, says Graham.

     Lecktor asks, “What disadvantages?”

     Graham replies, “You’re insane.”

It is common for a detective or criminologist to state that, in order to catch a criminal, you must think like a criminal.  It is not only unnecessary to think like the criminal, it is imperative that you do not.  You don’t think like a criminal and you don’t want to.  You hunt them.  Their values are different than yours.  Their brain works differently than yours.  In order to catch a criminal, you must think like someone who catches criminals.

In your career you have investigated hundreds of bad guys.  You are smart with years of investigative experience and an above average IQ.  But you do not, by any means, believe you are smarter than every one of the people you investigate.  You think differently than they do.  Your desires, motives and goals are different than theirs.  You know that your advantage is that you do not think like them.  Good.  Don’t think like them.  Hunt them.

Enjoy.  Salmon tastes good.