Who is Michael Cassel of Von Dutch Originals? Hulu series airs today

Bruno Cooke November 18, 2021


Hulu’s three-part series The Curse Of Von Dutch: A Brand To Die For premieres today, exploring the tempestuous rise and fall of the iconic Y2K fashion brand. What do we know about Michael Cassel, one of the people credited with the label’s rise in popularity?

How did Von Dutch Originals originate?

Von Dutch owes its name to American Kustom Kulture artist, mechanic and pinstriper Kenny Howard, who earned the moniker for his stubbornness.

Family members apparently called him “Dutch” because he was “as stubborn as a Dutchman”. He added “Von” for flair, and as an artistic signature.

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Photo by Eric Rickman/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images

Howard died in 1992 from alcohol-related complications, leaving his two daughters, Lisa and Lorna, with the Von Dutch name. Four years later, in 1996, they sold the rights to the name to California-based duo Michael Cassel and Robert “Bobby” Vaughn.

Cassel co-created Von Dutch Originals in 1999.

Who are Michael Cassel and Robert Vaughn of Von Dutch Originals?

The New York Post calls Michael Cassel a “self-described ‘outlaw’”, Vaughn as a surfer and model. Together, they mined Howard’s artistic legacy, turning its iconography into wearable fashion.

By the end of the century, Von Dutch – the brand, not the person – had a small following. Cassel described Von Dutch the person as “completely against the grain”.

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Source: YouTube [Hulu]

“Kids go through a stage where they like punk rock, they like rebellious things, and ‘f**k that’ anarchy, right?” the NYP quotes him as saying. “[Howard] was that in his art, he was that in his actions.”

But Cassel struggled to find capital to help grow the company for a while. Eventually, he brought in Danish entrepreneur and creative Tonny Sorensen in November 2000. Sorensen is also a former Olympian and Taekwondo champion. He served as the chief executive for a time.

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Photo by David LEFRANC/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

What happened to Michael Cassel in 2004?

Per the Los Angeles Times, in April 2004, a US District Court judge upheld an injunction against Michael Cassel, temporarily banning him from using Von Dutch Originals’ logo.

An earlier restraining order barred Cassel from using the logo and selling any Von Dutch merchandise. Sorensen was still, at that time, the head of the company.

In 2004, lawyers representing Von Dutch Originals alleged that, in 2002, Cassel signed documents relinquishing his stake in the company. Cassel maintained that the signatures were a forgery.

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The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For | Official Trailer | Hulu

The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For | Official Trailer | Hulu

French stylist Christian Audigier – who died in 2015 – whom Sorensen had brought in to boost sales, left the company in 2007 (according to the Post). 

Five years later, in 2009, European shoe distributor Royer Group bought the brand, via its Luxembourg subsidiary Royer Brands International S.a.r.l. Kylie Jenner has since tried to bring it back – or at least, that’s how some have seen it – with marginal success.

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Bruno is a postgraduate student studying global journalism, with research interests in the intersection of the media, storytelling, culture and politics. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Packs Light and Forge Press, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com. He is a Student Ambassador for Tortoise Media, a big fan of Freddie Mercury and a novelist – his debut novel, Reveries, is available on Amazon.