THE CURSE OF VON DUTCH: A BRAND TO DIE FOR chronicles the unbelievable true story behind the rise and fall of the 2000s most iconic fashion trend. In this epic character-driven saga, Venice Beach surfers, gangsters, European garmentos and Hollywood movers and shakers all vie for control of the infamous brand — pushing it from obscurity to one of the most recognizable labels on Earth. After a decade of backstabbing, greed, and bloodshed, their lives – and pop culture – will never be the same.
For the release of the docu-series, THE CURSE OF VON DUTCH: A BRAND TO DIE FOR, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with Director Andrew Renzi, where they discussed how his perceptions of the overall story and its players changed throughout the course of working on the project to what draws him to exploring certain documentary ideas, and wrapping with what the biggest surprises were for him on the project.
Looking into your background, you’ve done a lot of documentaries, spanning from like cattle ranchers, to immigrants in the military, etc. So what was it about VON DUTCH that you were like, oh, yeah, this is next?
Andrew Renzi: It’s a great question. I think it fits with this theme that I have. I really love to find stories that have sort of like a marquee thing that draws you towards this Trojan horse, and what better Trojan horse than the trucker hat? And then you have this trucker hat and then little could you have ever imagined that there would be a story like there is behind the trucker hat. And so, I’m constantly looking for stories like the deported veterans project that I did. It’s kind of the same idea. It’s like you have immigration, this big, shiny idea, and you can explore that big issue by way of a story that you never could have expected. So I’m constantly looking for stories like that, and this one just really, really fit the bill. I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t also just some excitement that there’s some fun here. It’s nostalgic and it’s a lot of fun, and it’s wacky, and the characters are larger than life, and it kind of gives you everything that you hoped for in a documentary. Those interviews are some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.
I was gonna ask about that, because the three main guys were…I remember watching it, and me and my friend were like, wait a minute, how many creators of VON DUTCH are there? So how was it working with each of those men? And do you think they ever would want to be in the same room together?
Andrew Renzi: It’s so funny that you say that, because we’re gonna probably have a little premiere party, and I’ve invited all of them to come. And I told them, Listen, guys, we got to button it up.
Please don’t kill anyone.
Andrew Renzi: Yeah. They’re going to be in the same room, and they’re like, oh, yeah, you know, we’ll be fine. But tension is in the air. These guys looked at this as this was serious, and some of the guys came from backgrounds where certain behaviors were acceptable. Even Tonny [Sørensen], Tonny’s a taekwondo champion. So he’s not someone to mess with either. It’s like, I wouldn’t want to get into a fight with Tonny.
I wouldn’t want to get in the fight with any of them.
Andrew Renzi: I think that one thing I will say is that it’s 20 years now about, maybe a little less like 15 years or so, and time obviously does have an effect on people. And I think that the unfortunate reality for Mike [Cassel] is that time has not been good to him. Bobby [Vaughn]’s kind of similarly has been really looking for this opportunity let everything go, and this sort of show has been that cleansing for him I think that he’s been waiting for, but that’s a long time. That’s 15 years that he’s been kind of waiting for that. So I don’t think that there’s a violent bone in any of their bodies anymore. I would actually be really curious to see them all in the room together.
You got Paris Hilton, which is huge. Was there any other person within that oversaturation of VON DUTCH that you’re hoping to get, but you didn’t? Or you were surprised that you got that you didn’t think you’re going to get it?
Andrew Renzi: Yeah. I tried to be clear with myself about how I wanted to tell the story that I didn’t want it to be…I didn’t want to veer too far from the people that actually were telling the story, the characters that were really embedded in it and I knew that if we started to line the walls with tons and tons and tons of celebrities that really kind of could only comment on like, well, I wore the hat. Paris was kind of embedded in the story in a way that I felt was important. Same with Dennis Rodman. If you have the opportunity to put Dennis Rodman in something, you do it in my opinion [laughs]. But I would have loved Tommy Lee to have wanted to be in it because he was the early days of the company. But, in his defense, VON DUTCH isn’t really the coolest thing in the world and you kind of don’t want to necessarily show up if you don’t know the whole…if you don’t know that you’re going to be involved in something that’s a little bit more interesting than just what you think VON DUTCH became, then it’s probably a hard yes. But I’m really happy with who we ended up getting. I think that also, like I said at the end of the day, tracking the characters was the most important thing. And there’s just such a rich tapestry of characters that I didn’t want to go too far off that course.
Did you know much about VON DUTCH, the actual VON DUTCH? Had you read anything about him prior to this? Or were you just like, Oh, let’s see what these hats are all about? And then, was that how you learned about him and his life?
Andrew Renzi: I knew about the company in the same way that somebody that’s my age, who kind of was coming of age at that time, knew of the company, you know? Those were formative young adult years for me when people were starting to wear that hat and stuff. It was never a style that I necessarily signed on to, although I will admit that when I moved to LA, I actually got my first rent money modeling that hat, which is something that I never hope to come out again. But it’s kind of funny, and it comes full circle. I was literally just walking down Melrose and I was like 18 years old. I was broke, left school, and I was like, let me see what LA is all about. And someone was like, Do you want to make a couple 100 bucks wearing this hat? And I was like ugh this hat, but I did it. I don’t know if those pictures exist or whatever happened to that, but it was kind of funny. So then cut to now and I hear about this project.
But, to answer your question, no, I didn’t know a ton about any of this other than when I was approached, the people who approached me, IPC, the production company, they knew a lot. And so it was not like, Hey, you want to do a documentary about VON DUTCH? It was like, fasten your seat belt. The VON DUTCH story is fucking crazy. And I was like, Oh, wow. And then, the great thing is, is that when we started collaborating on it, it got even crazier. Tonny was the hardest person to get to agree to get involved. We got him to agree while we were filming. So the story just kept unfolding, and then, you have obviously the story of Bobby and Mark Rivas. That was something that was unfolding as we were going as well. And so, I think that there was a lot that we didn’t know even going into it, even if we thought we knew a lot.
I loved how petty Ed [Boswell] was when he dropped that bomb. We were just so impressed with his pettiness. I’ve never really seen anything like that. [laughs]
Andrew Renzi: He’s a true character. He’s one of a kind. Yeah, he’s a true one of a kind, which you love to see in documentaries.
What was the most surprising aspect of this documentary for you? Whether it be the story or just like, while you were filming, and the people around you.
Andrew Renzi: I think the most surprising thing for me was that when you go into a story like this, you kind of expect there to be clear good guys and bad guys. You sort of expect that you’re going to know, okay, by the end of this, I’m really going to know who’s the one that’s to blame. Who’s the one that screwed up, and, and you really don’t, and I love that about this. Because, on paper, you get a guy like Tonny that comes in. You have these two young guys that aren’t supposed to succeed in the fashion industry, because they have checkered past and they’re men of color. And you’re like, on paper, like Tonny’s gonna be the bad guy. He’s gonna come and he’s gonna rip this company from these guys, and it’s gonna be like another story about this guy coming in and ruining some lives. But then you’re like, well, actually…So I love that about this story. Because I was constantly questioning my own compass of who I’m going to align with. And, by the end of it, I just kind of gave up on that, and I was like, You know what? That’s what life is. There’s no clear good guy and bad guy here. There’s just perspectives that are all valid. I really respected all of their perspectives, and I knew that they all messed up in certain ways. They all were valuable and valid in many ways. And so, let’s just tell that story and see where the audience lands. It’s kind of one of those stories where I feel like at the end of it, everyone’s gonna be like, Well, Mike was right. No, Tonny was right. No, Bobby was right. No one’s gonna agree on anything and I think that’s great.
I think that they all created it and it’s just different levels of bringing it to life. All of them are flawed, and what are you gonna do?
Andrew Renzi: That’s what it is and I love that. I think that was fun for me to kind of go down that road of like, going into my interview with Tonny and kind of being like, alright, here we go!
All three episodes of THE CURSE OF VON DUTCH: A BRAND TO DIE FOR are now available exclusively on Hulu.
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