The Von Dutch Influence
Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard is credited with reviving
the pinstriping of cars and motorcycles in the mid-forties. Starting
as a motorcycle mechanic, Von Dutch borrowed brushes from his dad
(a sign painter and designer in southern Los Angeles) to pinstripe
a motorcycle from the shop. Once the shop owner saw Von Dutch’s
work, he moved him from mechanical work to painting and striping.
Although Von Dutch started the pinstriping craze, he actually
preferred to be considered a mechanic. He would remind fans that
paint only lasts a few years, while metalwork could last forever.
Von Dutch’s best-known designs were painted flames and freestyle
pinstriping that focused attention on a machine’s curves
and lines. He also created the famous flying eyeball logo that
the Von Dutch Kustom Cycles uses today.
Von Dutch told people that the flying eyeball first appeared in
Macedonian and Egyptian cultures thousands of years ago. The symbol
signified an omniscient presence in the sky. As a believer in reincarnation,
Von Dutch discovered the flying eyeball and modified it to become
a symbol of the Von Dutch style and custom culture.
Although Von Dutch considered himself a mechanic, he spent years
pinstriping motorcycles and cars, moving from one shop to the next
in southern California. Potential customers traveled across the
country to have Von Dutch detail his machine. Customers did not
dictate design—they merely indicated how much time they would
purchase and Von Dutch would create the unique design.
Von Dutch quit pinstriping in 1958. By this time he had amassed
many followers and imitators, who saw his designs as the visual
element of a custom culture life philosophy. He scorned money,
choosing instead to live on the edge of poverty to keep himself
sharp and driven. In September 1992, he died of a stomach abscess.
He was survived by two daughters, Lisa and Lorna, and an artwork
legacy that flourishes to this day.
In the twenty-first century, the Von Dutch lifestyle is considered
to be about freedom, style, sex, power, and motion. Vintage machines
and apparel are appreciated for their authenticity. “Kustom
kulture” dictates an appreciation for the open road, creativity,
and artistic celebration of America’s rebel motorcycle past.
Von Dutch-influenced designs can be seen on apparel, motorcycles,
cars, signs, and more.