A young Kenny Howard (Von Dutch) perfecting his pinstriping craft at Bud Ekins’ shop, 1965.
Before the cheesy namesake clothing and accessories line that threatens to destroy his cred forever, there was the self-invented and slightly mad genius Kenny Howard– better known asVon Dutch.He was a real Renaissance man– legendary custom painter, artist, motorcycle mechanic, and a skilled metal worker who hand-crafted his own knives and guns.
He had a strong aversion to money and felt it was detrimental to his art– which makes the clothing line even more of an ironic abomination.
“I make a point of staying right at the edge of poverty. I don’t have a pair of pants without a hole in them, and the only pair of boots I have are on my feet. I don’t mess around with unnecessary stuff, so I don’t need much money. I believe it’s meant to be that way. There’s a ‘struggle’ you have to go through, and if you make a lot of money it doesn’t make the ‘struggle’ go away. It just makes it more complicated. If you keep poor, the struggle is simple.“–Von Dutch
Born in 1929 as Kenneth Howard, Von Dutch was the man who brought pin-striping as a high art from motorcycles to automobile bodies. He took his nickname from his stubbornness. “Stubborn as a Dutchman” is a by now quaint ethnic slur.
But beyond stubborn, Von Dutch became insufferable. He was the quintessential cliché romantic artist, selfish inside his own vision, alienating family, friends and customers alike. Part romantic, part beatnik, part general pain in the ass, he was a prima donna, he managed to irritate almost everyone who admired him—and in the best esthetic mode, somehow made them admire him more in the process.
He died in 1992, leaving two daughters. At the end, he was drinking heavily, holed up in an old Long Beach city bus.