Kat Von D: “My Idea Of Beauty Is A Lot Different Than Most People’s”
Kat Von D: “My Idea Of Beauty Is A Lot Different Than Most People’s”
She’s just had her first baby with husband Leafar Sayer, singer of Cholo Goth duo Prayers. Together, they reside in an opulent castle like home in Los Angeles that the natural born creator, planned herself. Yet, before that, Kat Von D also designed, built and expanded her own business empire.
For many years the name Kat Von D was tied exclusively to tattoos and tabloids. After all, both of these things, alongside her ambition, her smarts and her stunning goth appeal made her into an internationally renowned tattoo artist, to this day successfully running her own studio “High Voltage Tattoo” in West Hollywood and starring in TLC’s reality show “LA Ink” from 2007 to 2011.
But Kat Von D is so much more: author, animal rights activist, feminist, free spirit, musician, wife, mother and makeup mogul. Over the course of ten years she has turned a personal passion into an own makeup line that grew into a highly-acclaimed company. Today the name Kat Von D is synonymous with iconic best-sellers such as the “liquid lipstick”, the “tattoo liner” and the “lock it foundation”. Her long-lasting, highly pigmented, cruelty free products are loved by makeup devotees and artists alike and sold at big retailers all across the States, the UK and at Sephora in much of the rest of the world. Meet the artistic force behind Kat Von D Beauty as she talks self-expression, beauty, veganism and the fine art of not giving a fuck.
You are the world‘s best known female tattoo artist…
Aww, thank you.
Do you feel women have a different approach to tattooing?
No, that would be anti-feminist. I think it is counterproductive to define ourselves by our gender. I’d rather have people appreciate my work and not the fact that I have tits and a vagina.
“I’d rather have people appreciate my work and not the fact that I have tits and a vagina.”– Kat Von D
How does your tattooing influence your makeup and vice versa?
I think that art comes in all type of mediums. I guess a lot of people know me from doing tattoos but I don’t think that’s the only thing that I can do. I know that it’s not. I enjoy playing music and writing music and drawing, designing furniture and sewing lamps as well as designing makeup components and formulations. To me makeup artistry is just another form of self-expression and that makes it exciting to be able to be a part of the brand that is hopefully inspiring other people to express themselves that way.
In a sense of self-expression, empowerment, creativity: Do you feel that the acts of putting on makeup and getting or wearing a tattoo can be compared?
Yeah, I think that it is exciting that we have the ability to express ourselves through whatever form that is, whether it’s the shoes or a dress you want to wear or makeup or the way you cut your hair. It doesn’t have to be extreme or it doesn’t have to be what’s expected by society either. It can be whatever you want. Life is either too short or too long to really care. You have this freedom to be whoever you want. That is – well, empowering is not a good enough word to describe it – I think it is vital.
How old were you when you started buying your first products?
We grew up extremely poor so I couldn’t even afford drugstore brands as a kid and I come from quite a conservative family. My family is from Argentina and I was born in Mexico and my parents were not real Americans in any way. My mother is very naturally beautiful but she was a fan of makeup and dying and curling her hair. She was very feminine. I was this dirty tomboy when I was a kid, the ugly duckling. But I remember the first time that I tried on eyeliner and I remember how intuitive and how natural it felt, which is really weird as it’s usually challenging for other people. (…) I always wear a cat eye eyeliner so (…) to me it was the eyeliner that changed my makeup world.
Was it your dream to have your own makeup brand?
I’m not a makeup artist but I’m a huge makeup fan so we decided on an opportunity to create something new, something that had never been done before and we started off with four lipsticks and I thought to myself back then – wow four that’s a lot. I thought maybe come up with one lipstick and then fast forwarding now we have lost count … It’s exciting to see that.
Who is your brand for?
Who is it not for? To me Kat von D Beauty is for everybody. I mean a lot of people have this misconception that you have to look like me in order to wear it but it’s definitely not true. My mum wears my makeup and dresses absolutely nothing like me so I think that if my mum can wear it everybody can and that’s the beauty of being versatile. It speaks to a lot of people and my main objective when creating a product is to inspire people to use this makeup in a way that expresses the way they feel on the inside. And that’s it. It’s that simple.
Could you explain your role as the brand founder?
that I’m really proud of and which makes Kat von D Beauty so special is how creatively involved I am. I mean obviously I’m doing everything from coming up with the ideas to testing formulations and having the art directions from work on the palettes and art direction at the photo shoots and things like that and I like being hands on. I think that a part of it is that I’m a little bit a control freak but I’m also very passionate and I think that that’s important and I think it’s easy to be able to take a pay check and sign the license and not ever be a part of something but it’s not worth it so I’d rather be able to look at every product and know that I was a part in the creating the entire part of it.
Who and what inspires you?
I don’t know, people ask me all the time. I think that inspiration is all around you. … I think that if we spend a little less time on our cell phones and really look outside, you’ll find inspiration super easily.
You have founded the KVD Artistry Collective – with makeup artists Leah Carmichael (@iamleah), Tara Buenrostro (@juscallmetara) and Steffanie Strazzere (@sstrazzere)? How did you meet them?
I was screenshotting all of their posts on Instagram. And when I look at people like Leah and Tara and Steffanie I get so jealous and think „Oh my God, I wish I would have thought of that!“ … how beautifully something is executed. Nonstop! I have yet to see one post that I’m not inspired by. It could be something very simple too, it’s the idea that matters, it’s just so cool… I am very lucky to have them around and they are always saying how they feel lucky and I’m like: I’m your fan! But it’s good to be a fan of the people you work with.
Why did you choose them in particular to represent your brand and what exactly is the purpose of the KVD Artistry Collective?
When I looked at how big Kat Von D Beauty was getting, I felt that it was unrealistic that I could do all of it because makeup is not my only passion. There are many things that I want and need to do. I know I can’t clone myself, so I thought: What better thing to do than to pick your heroes to be your representation?! I spend a lot of time thinking about what I was looking for… even on an ethical level. It’s so interesting: Putting these girls in one room with each other they organically become friends and I think that something you can’t curate or buy. And I think most brands are afraid to do that, they don’t want to invest money or time into something that they don’t own, whereas I think you need to set up the entire team for success even if it means them becoming bigger than you. Because then you are part of something bigger than you and that’s cool. Instead of being competitive you are actually celebrating each other. That’s really what it’s about. And I am really confident that they are happy working with me, not for me. And that will be better for both sides … hopefully, if I am lucky.
“I do dream about changing the world and I’m using whatever power I’ve got to do that in a positive way.”– Kat Von D
You’re a big influencer nowadays. You’re an artist. You’re a feminist, you stand for animal rights. If you could change the world, one thing about the world, what would it be?
I don’t believe in daydreaming about what heritage and legacy would be. I do dream about changing the world and I’m using whatever power I’ve got to do that in a positive way. If I could give one gift to the world it would be veganism. I think people confuse vegans with those crazy animal people, like – Oh! we love cute bunnies and we don’t want to hurt them but truly animal aberration is human aberration. When you look at our environment, there is absolutely no doubt there is something called climate change and when you look at what is contributing to that animal agriculture is really high up there and we should be equally as concerned. So it’s not just about the animals. It’s about how it affects the environment, our health and cruelty aspect as well. I think that would be my gift. And as a feminist when you look at an industry like the dairy industry which exploits and rapes female cows in order to feed humans milk I don’t believe that you can be a feminist and consume dairy products and contribute to that. … Do everything with love whether it’s to animals or human beings.
“Do everything with love whether it’s to animals or human beings.”– Kat Von D
Could you explain a difference between cruelty free and vegan?
When I first started the makeup line I was not yet vegan. I wasn’t even sober yet. It’s interesting to see the line to be able to evolve in the time line of my life because everything is very personal. I name the shades after people I love and sometimes those relationships don’t last but I still like that lipstick. It’s important for me to walk the walk and not just talk about it. When I became vegan and I’ve learnt more about it I realized it wasn’t just about what I was eating. There are millions of ways that we exploit animals and one of them being in our cosmetics, whether it’s through testing or using animal by-products. We’ve never tested on animals and we never will. We had a sit down and looked through all our collection and found ingredients that had bees wax or carmine and reformulated them so it took a lot of time and energy and money but it was totally worth it. I love when I wake up in the morning and I’m doing my makeup, nobody died for it and I think that’s how everybody should be. … I feel the companies are not really forthcoming with some information. When you look at what animal testing is, I think we confuse the idea of how much it benefits humanity. We put a value on that. The fact is that animal testing doesn’t help humanity. 92% of the tests that succeed in animal testing fail in human. So you can see (…) see the recalls and it could affect our health. All animal testing is just a big business that exploits animals and also exploits humans. To me it’s important to really stand up for it. The amazing part of all of it is that we have the power as the individual who consumes and purchase it – every dollar is a vote. Whenever you go and buy a brand that tests on animals you‘re saying – I want to contribute to that. We’re living in a great time today because there are so many amazing brands, not just my own, that are completely cruelty free and really take a stand. We don’t have any excuses anymore. I believe in this whole reformulation process. I have found substitutes that are not animal based and are actually better. They perform better. It’s just a matter of spending the energy and having that compassion. I love all my fans and followers but I definitely love my compassionate vegan fans even more.
“It is important to be able to take everything with a grain of salt, not just the haters, also the positive stuff too.”– Kat Von D
How important is feedback from fans on social media? Do you take their input into consideration?
I think it is important to be able to take everything with a grain of salt, not just the haters, also the positive stuff too. Otherwise you a fall into a place where you start believing that there is such thing as „the best“… I mean, of course I appreciate kindness; it is amazing, I love that. But I wouldn’t want outside voices to dictate too much what creativity is. However, I have named certain shades after some of my followers because I love them and that’s me paying homage to them. But I am not one to really follow trends with the fans too much, it turns me off a little bit. However, the interaction with my followers makes me happy. I drive a lot of joy from being able to connect with people that I can relate to even if I don’t know them.
“The only person that I really need to impress is myself and I have yet to do that.”– Kat Von D
As a strong, independent female and artist you inspire many women around the world. Does it motivate you to keep going or can it also be intimidating at times?
You know that’s a great question. I don’t get intimidated by much. I think the only person that I really need to impress is myself and I have yet to do that. It’s not that I have low self-esteem and I do give myself credit that I do a great job and I do my best. But that’s the goal to always outdo yourself and get better. When I look at responses from followers at social media, they inspire me in a different way. There are times when I feel extremely alone. I love my solitude, but alone in a sense of thinking about animal rights or the things that really fucking matter. And you look outside and you have a world that is really backwards. But then you have this small group of people that understand and see the world the same way than you. Whether or not they are hurting too, but it makes you feel less alone on this planet. And that kind of support is so much better than somebody telling me that they love my lipstick. I think that’s one of the best parts about social media: It has brought people together that wouldn’t necessarily have been able to meet or inspire each other because we live on opposite sides of the planet. We are lucky in that sense. It outshines the negative.
“You can be the most beautiful person and have a shit attitude and to me it’s very ugly.”– Kat Von D
What is your definition of beauty?
I think that my idea of beauty is a lot different than most people. I can appreciate the conventional idea of beauty but to me, I know it’s going to sound cliché but beauty is in here. You can be the most beautiful person and have a shit attitude and to me it’s very ugly. I think beauty transits from a different place and makeup is just a way to elevate it or magnify it in ways but personally my favorite look on me is without any makeup. I think beauty is kindness. It’s me walking down the street (…) and people being kind to me. I think that’s beautiful and I feel really lucky in that sense. I don’t know if I even answered the question but you get the idea.
What would be the product that you would choose to turn a no-makeup lover into a makeup junkie?
I would never want to transform anybody into a makeup junkie! For example, my dad, who I love very much, he has absolutely zero tattoos and I like it. I think it’s a part of diversity. As I said before, my biggest nightmare is that people would be selling Kat von D Beauty and said: I need to purchase this to make myself something I’m not, you know.
“I don’t think you’re a hero because you woke up a certain way.”– Kat Von D
Either red lips or dark eyes, never combine both – that is an often cited makeup rule. What is your view on nude or „woke up like this“ or pseudo natural looks?
I don’t follow people like that, I don’t see that in my feed. I think it’s lame to give yourself credit for being yourself. I don’t think you’re a hero because you woke up a certain way. I mean: Good job on cleaning your face. I think what is actually empowering is loving yourself without makeup on and that being normal not a moment to celebrate. That’s just who you are, you know. To me natural might not be what’s natural to most people. I’m a fan of all of it. If you want to look like a Duran Duran album cover and have dark eyes and lips, that’s cool. If you want to not wear lipstick that’s great too. And any place in the middle is nice as well. It’s whatever you like.*
*All questions were answered in a personal One-on-One interview as well as in a Q&A session during the Sephora x Kat von D Beauty launch event 2017 in Warsaw, Poland.