What is the first thing that comes to mind, if you hear the words L.A. Ink? You will probably think of a pale-skinned beauty with jet black hair, and a passion for tattoos: Kat Von D. It’s been years since she shot to fame thanks to that TV show, and like the #girlboss she is, Kat came a long way: her cosmetics and her shoe lines, both 100% vegan, are just two examples of her success. We met her during the launch of Kat Von D Beauty in Italy, available as a sneak peek on Sephora.it starting on March 29th, and available in stores from April 5th. We had a chat with her, to get to know her better, and to understand just how a tattoo artist launched by a TV show became a great fan of the beauty world, and of Instagram…
Today there’s a lot of crossover between beauty and tattoos (eg. brows micro-blading). What do they have in common, in your opinion?
First and foremost, it’s the self expression that unites them for me. I personally get tattoos for a very intimate reason, and to me makeup has kind of the same trait. I think as women we’re constantly going and we don’t always have the time to “love ourselves”, dedicate time to ourselves. If other people look at it and think “Oh, it’s cool!” then ok, because it’s a very outward expression, but that’s not why we do it. I know this because a lot of the times I’d just do makeup to try an idea I had, and I won’t even leave the house with the makeup on (at least I can still post in on social media to share it). I love it because I love how it makes me feel. The permanent cosmetics, I feel like they’re a byproduct of two industries. Personally I love that time and permanency is what makes tattoos and makeup different. We can experiment on anything with makeup, which is what makes it that much cooler, and we just have to wash it off if we hate it. Also, style evolves and changes but tattoos are forever. That’s why I’m always hesitant about promoting permanent cosmetics. I have to say though, one of my friends had to go through chemo recently and she lost all her hair. She didn’t even care about her head, she really wanted brows, they really change everything. So if something more permanent can help you go through something like that then it’s great, just do some research before you decide. Don’t treat it like a bargain, if it is true that you get what you pay for, then think about a little investment that’s going to save you some heartache.
When it comes to tattoos mainly, but also makeup, what do you value more, the message behind a choice or the aesthetic itself?
Once again it’s very personal. I get a lot of hate from tattooers because I’m very sensitive and emotional, for me it’s always more profound than “a cool tattoo”. But speaking for myself absolutely, yeah. You can’t have one without the other. Right now we’re in a room full of art (Palazzo Serbelloni in Milan), I know that everything here is so symbolic of something, it wasn’t on accident. True art demands that, if it was meaningless then we wouldn’t respond to it.
Your brand has a really specific aesthetic. Do you consider the Kat von D customer part of a family/niche or do you think about customers in general when developing a product?
It’s probably the biggest thing that works against me, my strong sense of style, meaning it’s quite aggressive. When I launched the makeup line, it was 4 lipsticks and 2 eyeshadow palettes. I remember going back to my mom, who doesn’t dress anything like me at all. The true test for me was seeing how she would respond (and she liked them). I wouldn’t want people to look at my brand and think “Oh, this is only for a gothic girl”. The truth is this is one of the most versatile brands I’ve ever experienced, myself, trying to say this as unbiased as possible. Take the Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in Lolita, for example. It looks good on any skin tone as well as any age range. In our message we always try to show that versatility. It’s not just for the goth girl. The coolest thing that comes out of this is that we could be given the same products and come up with completely different looks. That’s art form reflecting in different ways.
So what do you and your customers have in common?
I think it’s the intense desire to create. There’s an artist in all of us, but I don’t mean a pro-makeup artist. When I look at people that I’m talking to on Instagram, we don’t look alike but we’re all creative beings. We get high on that. And that’s what really connects everyone, even you and I.
Speaking of creating things, name one product you dream of producing (could be anything, from black ice-cream to custom guitars).
I carry this book in my purse (showing a leather bound, golden pages notebook), I have a bunch of them. I call them my idea books. Anytime I have ideas and I’m on the road, I’ll jot them down here. I’ll tell you what’s on this one at the moment: I want to make a turban with a widow’s peak, this rock formation as wall decor, or a flowerbed made out of teeth sculptures. I would also love to do Victorian lampshades and write music, as well as continue producing my vegan shoe line. The desire to create is definitely there, and the list could be endless. My biggest fear in life is probably that I will die before I get to do all the things I want to do. It’s a good fear though.
We’re having this interview in Milan, because Kat von D will soon be available in Italy. People have known about the brand for a while though, thanks to influencers and online word of mouth. Do you think the internet has changed the way people shop for beauty?
Most definitely and in a really great way. In the past I think a lot of our influences were dictated by print magazines, which was a little limited. You’re bound to miss some voice out of the public. But now, with social media, you can see that you’re free to do whatever you want. There’s something for everybody. As far as marketing goes, it’s even cooler, because I get to talk directly with people. If someone has a question I can just respond to it. Also with gifting, I like the idea of discovering people that can give something creative to the mix, so even if they have just a few followers but can do something really inspiring, that’s amazing.
What’s the best thing the internet brought to the beauty industry, in your opinion?
I don’t know if it’s necessarily the best part, but collaborations are definitely great. They are what brought me and part of my team together. A lot of great collaborative experiences are happening, not just in makeup but in the world of design and art, because of social media. Something some people might deem silly like Instagram makes these things happen, I think it’s really powerful.
Time for a little Camera Roll Q&A. What’s the last photo you took on your phone?
This is linked to a very dear memory, which Kat recalled during her press conference in the morning. Milan was the place where she attended her very first tattoo convention, and on the night she arrived she stood exactly on the same spot, and it changed her life in so many ways. The chiaroscuro of light and shadows on the Duomo might actually be the main reason of inspiration behind the Shade & Light palette. How cool is that?