Kat is a force to be reckoned with. When I first walked into the room to meet her, I was a little bowled over by how tall she is (Wikipedia tells me she’s a good 10 centimetres taller than me, and she was also wearing killer heels).
It’s surreal, having grown up watching L.A. Ink and Miami Ink, to suddenly be sitting on the same couch as the woman herself. That said – and intimidating height aside! – she was incredibly warm and friendly, and any fangirlish anxiety I had was quickly swept away.
Keep reading to find out more about her beauty line and vegan lifestyle, as well as her inspirations, her cats, what it was like being on TV at such a significant time in her life, and of course, tattoos.
How did you get into creating your own beauty line?
We just celebrated nine years, which is so exciting and surreal for me, but when Sephora originally approached me about doing a makeup line, neither of us realised how great of an opportunity this was. I wasn’t interested in a licensing deal. I think a lot of people can easily put their name on something and not care about the final product. For me, being creatively involved is such a huge passion of mine. We were both sitting there thinking wow this could be something great, refreshing and new in the beauty industry. We started off with 4 lipsticks and now we’ve almost lost count.
Tell us more about how you became vegan
I became vegan about five years ago or so, maybe longer. It happened organically - I’d been vegetarian for a long time. I think it happens to a lot of vegans - they get into it for the dietary aspect, we focus on what we eat, and then we realise that there are more aspects like the ways in which we exploit animals in what we wear and scientific research. Kat Von D Beauty has been cruelty free from the beginning. We don’t test on animals and we never will.
Are all the Kat Von D beauty products vegan?
About 98% is already reformulated and vegan. We have a few shadows in palettes that have carmine and we’re still working on reformulating those. What I did to make it easier for everyone is on katovndbeauty.com we have a tab called vegan alert to tell everyone which shades are still being reformulated. I wasn’t vegan when i launched my line and didn’t pay attention to what carmine was. I don’t think a lot of people know - it’s a pigment that’s in a lot of red and purple shades, and it’s mainly in powder form and has been used for centuries but it’s made from beetle wings. That’s something some people don’t see as a big deal but to me it’s important to be mindful with not just nature but how we treat fellow species.
What are your favourite products from your line?
I use all my products but I’ve dwindled it down to three. My tattoo liner, which you can use everyday and you can use it for eyeliner or your eyebrows. And then my foundation which i absolutely love, and a red lipstick, because I love red lipstick. It’s kind of always been my thing. I love all colours, wild colours and nudes but red is a classic.
Do you have a favourite Everlasting liquid lipstick shade?
Recently been loving a red called Santa Sangre. A beautiful orange-based red, and i’ve been getting lots of compliments when i do wear it.
Which product was the most difficult to make?
Each product has their own challenges. Like the Tattoo Liner took seven revisions until it was right, the foundation took over 12 different revisions of back and forth until that was perfect, and then there’s other things like the Everlasting Liquid Lipstick that just came quickly, so it depends, there are just some formulations that are trickier than others.
We’ve seen hints of your collaboration with Too Faced, are there any other brands you’re looking to collaborate with?
So far Too Faced has been such a perfect match. I’ve known Jerrod (founder of Too Faced) for quite some time and he’s been always been supportive of me and the brand and again, we share the same ethical values as far as being cruelty free and that’s so important to me and I can’t imagine doing a collab with anyone else.
There’s lots of art on your instagram, but tell us more about what inspires you
It’s such a broad question really. I’d be foolish to not be inspired by my daily surroundings. I found a dead dragonfly outside my door the other day and I posted a picture on instagram and it was the most beautiful thing! It looked like its wings were made out of glass you could see through and all its ventricles kind of mirrored the cells in my hand and I was like wow, the interconnectedness of all of it is amazing so without sounding like too much of a hippie, nature is my biggest muse. Architecture is also something i find extreme inspiration from on an artistic level. I love historic architecture and people and music. A lot of the shades in my range have been named after people I know or bands that I absolutely love or song lyrics and titles so yeah everything inspires me, heartbreak and all of it.
What’s it like being a self-professed crazy cat lady?
I had [a cat named] Ludwig and then when he died it was really hard, it was my first time experiencing anything like with death which was really good for me especially I think with the kind of tattoos I tend to do. It really makes you understand loss and it also in turn makes you a better listener to those who have experienced that. I think I waited like a year before I even considered getting another cat. I love my cats (she currently has two named Poe and Piaf), I just think that the more I learn about the situation where I live, with so many kill shelters, that there’s an overwhelming amount of pets that need adoption. I know I’d much rather invest my time, money and energy into helping that situation instead of getting myself a new pet. If anything I would adopt and that would come in the form of a dog or a cat. I mean I love cats, I’m a crazy cat lady, but I’m a crazy animal person you know? And in L.A. it’s just heartbreaking how many animals are on death row. I tell my cats all the time they better not die or i’ll kill them.
Let’s talk about the most memorable tattoos you’ve done
There’s different content that I find exciting to tattoo. I love the old masters and being able to try and do those renditions that part of me is inspired to do and parts of me are intimidated to do. I’m getting more moved by the stories behind the tattoos which i’m sure a lot of tattooers hate that i’m so vocal about, but I feel like those are the connections that we make with people.
The three most important tattoos i’ve ever done in my life were more about the story. I don’t want to say they weren’t impressive because they were good, but they were very small and wouldn’t be considered something to show off as an artist. But to me, it was about the stories behind them, and I think those are so much more memorable than anything else i’ve experienced.
We know there are some crazy requests out there, but what’s the most outrageous tattoo request you’ve gotten?
I don’t know because i don’t have a good idea of what outrageous is anymore. I’ve seen it all so i don’t find anything as shocking. I remember getting to do a portrait of Tattoo from Treasure Island, which was a tattoo of Tattoo and that was pretty funny, but I don’t see anything as crazy anymore.
Are there tattoos you’d never do for someone and places you’d never tattoo?
I wouldn’t tattoo anything that would go against my moral values, so i don’t tatoo anything racist or anything too gang-affiliated or anything that would be a cause for alarm or regret. I think as a tattoo artist it’s our responsibility to guide people into getting something that they’re going to love forever. It’s a permanent thing, and not a purse you’re going to throw away.
And yeah, I mean, there’s parts of your body that don’t hold pigment as well like the bottoms or your feet. People are tattooing all sorts of crazy parts of their body now like eyeballs (yikes). And i don’t know, call me old fashioned or something but I like tattoos that are traditional like on the arm.
You’ve been tattooing for so many years now, but what’s the most memorable story behind a tattoo you’ve done?
There was one that I absolutely loved and I think we filmed it but you only get to see a fraction of the actual interaction on the show. This guy came in and he wanted to get a portrait of his dad holding him as a baby, and it was an old black and white photo. Then he brought this newspaper clipping of a plane crash with a picture i just didn’t like - it was just a bunch of rubble and the end of a plane, and i was assuming that something [bad] happened because you don’t normally get to talk to people until you start doing the tattoo. A part of me was weary because I worried he was just dwelling on something and I don’t want to mark him forever, but it’s what he wanted so i put together a collage.
As i was tattooing him I asked him about it and he told me that the picture of him as a baby was the day that they [his parents] adopted him. So that was the day that he met his new family and he said never felt lost like some adopted kids might, struggling with finding out who their real parents are or feeling a sense of abandonment, but he never felt that because his mum and dad showed him that not only was he their son, but they chose him. His dad was a pilot and when they were teenagers they went for an airplane ride and something malfunctioned in the plane and his dad reacted quickly and strapped himself in front of his son and when the plane crashed his dad died and he survived. It was like the ultimate sacrifice, and true love that’s not even from blood and i thought wow, that was just the most inspiring thing. What a hero.
What was it like, being in front of the camera for all those years?
I started when I was 21 or 22 and I think it the shows ran for maybe eight years? A few years in Miami and then when i did my own show it was six or seven years. I loved production, I think the production company was awesome. I loved my sound guy and camera guys, but I had a really hard time with the network and that’s ultimately why I stopped doing the show. It’s hard when you have a big corporation that doesn’t really care about you as a human being and they just want ratings so they edit things. And i just started questioning what message it was putting out into the world. So i respectfully finished out my contract and got out. But i think perhaps if I had owned the rights or had a say in editing I would have stuck around - but maybe the show wouldn't have been as entertaining either so who knows. I think it doesn’t change what I do anyway. I would still be here, I would still be tattooing, i’d still be doing things that I love.
Do you think being in the spotlight at that age was good for you?
It was good I think it taught me a lot of things about public perception and how illusionary the idea of fame is and I think thankfully, I have a good dad who taught me what’s really important in life and the things that are important have nothing to do with fame. I learnt a lot of good lessons and filmed during a very pivotal moment in my life. I got married, and I got divorced and I got super drunk and in a downward spiral and then I got sober and set a Guinness world record, and then I had a family business and lost the business, and it’s pretty amazing to have it all documented in some form.
What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not working?
I don’t really work. Work is meetings, the airport feels like work sometimes, but the creative process or tattooing or writing music doesn't feel like work to me. It’s just doing things I love - I’ve never had a vacation before nor do I want one. That sounds like a nightmare, not creating, so I like working. That’s my hobby. So when I get time I usually compartmentalise, whether i’m doing music or art or tattooing. I don’t watch TV or have a boyfriend so it’s really easy to take full advantage of my day.
What are you most proud of having accomplished right now?
My dad wrote me a letter this week which said he felt proud to be my dad so I think that’s probably the thing i’m proudest of.