Paul Van Doren, the ‘inventor’ of Vans, has died at 90. The American entrepreneur, co-founder of the shoe and clothing company Vans, was the creator of an empire thanks to the canvas sneakers that have become icons of pop culture. Vans on Twitter wrote: “It is with deep regret that Vans announces the passing of our co-founder Paul Van Doren. Paul was not just an entrepreneur, he was an innovator.” Paul was able to transform a family business into a globally recognized brand, running Vans from its foundation in 1966 until 1976, when his brother Jim took over the reins. At the time, Vans had 70 stores in California alone. Born in Boston on June 12, 1930, Paul Van Doren was the first of five children in a family of Dutch descent. Having dropped out of eighth grade school, Paul preferred to spend his days at the racecourse, where he was known by the nickname “Dutch the Clutch” for his precocious skills as a gambler and for his ability to make money. Despite his resourcefulness, it wasn’t long before his mother put an end to his “horse racing business” by ordering him to get hired at Randy’s, a shoe factory in Boston, where he arrived in 1944. As executive vice president of the company and had moved to California to save a troubled subsidiary, Van Doren decided to prove himself by starting his own shoe business. In 1966 Paul, along with his brother Jim and friends Gordy and Serge D’Elia, opened the Van Doren Rubber Company, at 704 East Broadway in Anaheim, California. Their business model was unique, as the shoes were made on site and sold directly to the public. “Canvas shoes for the whole family” was the slogan on the box. On the first morning of opening, the Vans boat shoes, now known as Authentic, were bought by 12 customers. During the first week, a customer ordered a pair in a different color and Van Doren asked for a sample of the fabric to use, thus initiating the customization of the shoes that Vans is renowned for. The history of the Checkerboard print began 10 years later, with the # 48 Vans model, now known as Slip-On. Steve Van Doren, Paul’s son, had noticed that young skaters decorated the midsole of their shoes to create a checkerboard effect. Paul Van Doren decided to develop this idea by printing the motif on the canvas upper of the Slip-Ons. Thus was born the famous checkered model.At the same period, in Great Britain, a second wave of ska music was spreading, the 2 tone, which was accompanied by the theme of overcoming racial tensions. In this context, bands like the Specials used the checkered pattern as a symbol of racial unity. It was for this reason that the Vans Checkerboard Slip-On soon became one of the most popular and distinctive elements in this subculture. Meanwhile, overseas, the Vans were quickly becoming the most popular shoes among Californian skaters. Just a few years earlier, the Old Skool model, with its leather toe and padded heel, had been adopted by skaters looking for more support and protection from moving boards. The collaboration with legendary skater Stacy Peralta and the slogan “Off the Wall” definitively established Vans as a brand of skaters and consumers with a refined aesthetic sensibility. Despite their growing popularity, the turning point came when Universal Pictures asked for models. of shoes to use on the set of a new film in progress. The film was “Crazy”, the first major teen movie of the 1980s, which was a huge success. It is said that it was actor and director Sean Penn himself who chose the Checkerboard model: his character, drug addict Jeff Spicoli, religiously wears his checkered sneakers, which take on such an iconic role that they end up on the cover of the soundtrack. With the success of “Crazy,” sales of the Vans skyrocketed, instantly transforming the brand into a globally renowned brand. Today the Vans checkered print can be seen everywhere, from skateboard ramps to the red carpet. Recent collaborations with leading designers and brands such as Marc Jacobs, Marvel and Disney, and reinterpretations of classics such as the Blur Check print, have helped to increase the popularity of this motif. The timeless Checkerboard print is so popular that it is chosen not only by many streetwear lovers but also by some of the most famous celebrities in the world. In 2011, “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart chose to leave her mark on the Hollywood Walk of Fame wearing her checkered Vans Slip-Ons. In 2017, singer-songwriter Frank Ocean attended a state dinner at the White House. wearing an impeccable tailored blue suit and a pair of Vans Checkerboards. When asked why she chose the Vans, Ocean replied, “You can’t sit there thinking about it too much; things just have to be done.” Perhaps this same principle of “don’t think, just do it” is the secret behind the success of Paul Van Doren who, with his entrepreneurial spirit and enterprising attitude, started from a shoe factory to create a of the most iconic prints in the world and over 50 years of success for the Vans brand.
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