Fifty shades of Kat: The makeup mogul talks beauty, being a crazy cat lady and pro-veganism
Viva Von D
Imagine the setting: A looming cathedral steeple, beneath which a hoard of black clad individuals mill restlessly, awaiting the next hapless soul who will fall into their clutches.
Exaggeration aside, the cathedral is real — it's the historic CHIJMES building complex — and the darkly dressed crowd is actually a coalition of Sephora cast members, local and from neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand. And the reason why each of them and yours truly ventured to consecrated ground in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon is none other than the presence of the original vamp lady, Kat Von D.
Here in Singapore again for round two of her beauty takeover (the gigantic Studded Kiss Lipstick dominating the Ion mall boardwalk should have clued you in), the makeup mogul is giving inquisitive press folks a tête-à-tête to tide us over until the official launch of her brand this Saturday.
Besieged by the Sephora cast members — obviously all Von D aficionados — upon getting out of my cab, the anticipation ratcheted up several notches and I had to ruthlessly suppress the urge to squeal like a fangirl. In no time at all, I'm rounding the outside of the cathedral to an unassuming door where Kat Von D was waiting inside with smiles and warm hellos (don't ask me what I was expecting). Clearly, our sunny isle agrees with her.
Stood before a veritable fount of creativity, I was proudly not gaping starstruck at the talented artist and tattooist, entrepreneur, vegan activist and everything else in between. Seriously, trying to pin one label on her is nigh impossible. So who better than Kat Von D herself to give us an insight into what makes her tick? Seated nary an arm's length away from her personage, I got right into the nitty-gritty of her beauty brand, her love for her cats, and her crusade for veganism.
You're the badass beauty mogul everyone loves, but we also remember those days when we looked forward to watching you on LA Ink and Miami Ink. Was it hard proving yourself in that male-dominated industry?
Yeah, I guess so. We tend to live in a male dominant world in general, and I don't think that the tattoo industry is a special exception to that, not counting the few female-dominated industries such as makeup. But I never cared to make that an issue because I felt that if I push myself to be a good enough artist, it wouldn't matter.
But as far as filming goes, it was definitely challenging back in those Miami Ink days, dealing with certain macho attitudes towards women that were from the cast members. But I was a tomboy and being around guys all my life, I think I had tougher skin than most girls did. Though for sure, I was happy to leave Miami Ink and go back home to start LA Ink. But at the end of the day, it's good to embrace who you are. I rather my work speak for itself.
Do you find it different now that you've made a shift to the beauty community?
I see it as two completely different issues because I find the tattoo industry is very tightknit and small, whereas the beauty industry has mass consumers across the globe and it includes almost every girl. I've never met a girl who has never tried lipstick at one point in her life, so there's the big difference. But I think whatever industry you're in, there will always be challenges and you're always going to face some type of aversion.
Who do you look up to as your beauty icon? Do you dream of inking them? And what design would you customise for him or her?
Most of my beauty icons aren't really conventional beauties. I tend to find hero qualities in people like Édith Piaf for example, who was a singer in the 30s' with bad posture (laughs). I love her because she just transcended all of that and sang her heart out even though she was kind of like an underdog. I don't have anybody that I dream of tattooing, per say, but there's definitely pieces of art that I always wanted to tattoo; the ones from the old masters like Caravaggio and Michelangelo.
Your art style integrates a lot of LA's Latino culture. Is this element something you try to promote in your makeup as well?
Most definitely! But I'm not trying to purposely push my Latin background into the line; I think it just naturally happens. It's something that's in my DNA, like how Spanish is my first language because I was born in Mexico and my family is from Argentina. I don't dream in Spanish, but I'm definitely fluent in it so it's easier for me to name a lot of shades. The subject and themes of each collection is close to my heart and I'm proud of my heritage. I do feel special being mixed because I find it's all different kinds of culture coming into one.
Visuals are evidently are a big part of your creative process. How do you log your thoughts and do they translate into beauty inspirations?
It's easier for me to just take one product at a time, so I can focus on something more. Of course, we have general themes through certain collections, but I've found it works really well for my team and I to take it one step at a time. If you look at the little stopper on the Lock-It foundation, it's in a shape of a wax seal that was taken from an original drawing that I did a long time ago. We kind of replicate that to different themes.
I mean, some brands probably will use a generic plug that you could throw away, but for me every aspect, corner and component should be special. It should feel good in your hands; like there was love put into it. That's important to me and it's also beautiful and really, your vanity should be like your own personal museum.
Do you find your artistic background as a tattooist translates to a natural proficiency in makeup, such as nailing the perfect cat-eye liner?
Well, there are different aspects of drawing, tattooing and even painting that translated to how I do my own makeup. For example, when I launched my Shade + Light contour palette, it was a concept I can really understand as I've spent time as an artist recreating portraits and understanding facial structure, like the anatomy of it and how different shades reflect off the light. And you can use the same techniques and approaches to art with your make up.
Art made it a lot easier for me to understand what contouring is, which is highlighting what you want to come forward and contouring the things you want to soften by shading in more shadows. But people who don't have an artistic or makeup background might find contouring very challenging and intimidating.
What was the most out-there makeup look you've ever done and would you recreate it for any occasion?
I'm trying to think...I don't know; my idea of out there is probably not most people's idea (laughs). Even the makeup I do everyday is crazy for some people, but it's my daily look. I'm not scared to try anything and I welcome thinking outside the box for sure. When I develop new products, it's very inspiring to do that and to try something new. In fact, I've been trying to explore the world of eyelashes. I don't know much about it and I've been using the same lashes for so long, so when I see new ones now, I want to try them and see what that's all about. And on my Instagram feed I see these girls with beautiful lashes, and I want to know where that's from so I've been trying to explore a lot more. It's exciting to try something new; I'm not afraid to experiment.
What was the biggest challenge you faced getting your makeup line off the ground when you first started?
I feel like I have more challenges now that my brand is bigger. The bigger you get, the more challenges come with it and we're growing so quickly with such demand. The biggest challenge is definitely keeping stock. We tend to sell out on a lot of colours. I can expect Singapore to probably sell out on certain Everlasting Lipstick shades, like how Lolita 1 in the States is always sold out. Though regionally it's always going to shift and change, so I'm excited to find out how you guys are going to respond but so far, everything's doing great.
I think with any business there are always growing pains, though personally there hasn't been anything that's so gnarly and crazy with the brand. Out of all the deals I've ever had, this one has been the most fulfilling and the most fun. I don't want to show off, but it's a lot of fun to have a makeup line and I highly suggest it.
A lot of your products have interesting names such as Plath, Poe and Ludwig. Do their famous namesakes inspire the product first or do you create a product then it hits you what to name them?
It's all different; for example, my Metal Crush collection have names with a little bit of story and are very much inspired by rock and roll, the glam and the glitter. Whereas for my Shade + Light palettes, the 'shade' shadows were named after saints that start with 'S' while the 'light' names are fallen angels that start with 'L'. So it's a different sort of unusual, and when it comes the ink liners, I was really inspired by all my favourite writers growing up so you see like names like Hemingway and Dali. I read a lot of beautiful philosophies and poetry such as Virginia Woolf and her writings so that's where it all came from.
And in certain collections like the previous butterfly one; I was inspired by the idea of change and metamorphosis so the theme centred on the concept of transition. Some things are more direct than others while some are more poetic. When it comes to the lipstick, it's very much about the shade. When I look at the shade, I think 'that is definitely Plath', and to me it looks like what Sylvia Plath's colour would be. Then there's Backstage Bambi, which is a very bright and bubbly pink so the name really makes sense to me. I feel that eyeshadow names are similar to song titles and lipstick names are like album titles. I also name stuff after my cats (laughs).
Speaking of your cats, you're a crazy cat lady and you're obviously a strong advocate against animal cruelty. You already have several vegan products but are you planning to have the entirety of your line go vegan in the future?
Yes! We're in the works of that. It's basically only the Shade + Light eye collection left. The palettes have some shades of carmine, except the green Sage quad. That one is vegan. As for the other four palettes, there are just a few shades I have to adjust. We're working relentlessly on reformulating those and so the minute that happens, hopefully by the end of this year, the brand would be 100 per cent vegan. This is really very important and I'm really excited.
What are the difficulties you face in going 100 per vent vegan?
Carmine is the only ingredient left that is an animal-based product and it's crushed beetles that produce a reddish tone, which is found in purple eyeshadows. So far we're discovering a few replacement ingredients like beads and organic substitutes, and we're just testing out the levels and making sure that everything is up to par before we make that 100 per cent transition.
I know a lot of brands wouldn't care and the vegan population is small, but it's something that keeps me up at night and it's exciting. For the time being, everybody who goes to the Kat Von D website can see a little tab I made that says vegan alert which tells you exactly what is already 100 per cent vegan. Right now, the list includes the complexion products, lipsticks, tattoo liners, the Metal Crush shadows, powders, the studded lipsticks, and the brushes are synthetic fibres too.
I'm really proud because this sends a message and it encourages people to live a more conscious life to better the environment, which I find is very important. I didn't know either until I became vegan and was already deep into creating makeup, so it's also a good example that I'm learning as well. We can learn and go through it together while setting an example for other brands.
I'm sure you agree having good skin is key for makeup to apply well, stay on and look good. To that effect, do you foresee yourself venturing into skincare?
There's definitely a demand for it. Now that I've reformulated and am re-launching the Lock-It franchise, which includes foundation, powder and concealer, I've also included a face primer and colour correction but ultimately, the best form of skincare is from the inside out. What you eat and what you consume because there's so much processed food that is bad for your skin. I think dairy is one of the things that are very really bad for human skin since it's milk that wasn't really designed for us to ingest and drinking it is causing side effects.
Yeah, I would love to explore creating moist treatments, although at the end of the day I don't believe that there are certain creams that are as effective as what you consume. You are basically what you eat, so I would rather focus on that. For now, my attention is on my colour story. Besides, I have to learn from you guys! Asia has so much breakthrough skincare technology that I never knew about! Just flying over here, I was browsing the duty free and everything was like, made using advanced scientific technology. You guys kill it. Just amazing.
What is the best makeup or skincare advice you've ever received which you religiously practice?
I definitely do not go to bed with my makeup on. There are a lot of people with bad makeup habits like that, and it's really bad for your skin. I have my wipes to breakdown my makeup and cleansing is crucial. I love doing my weekly exfoliation. There's an Ole Henriksen walnut complexion scrub I would die for. It's like the best exfoliation. It's such a treat and it always leave my skin extra, super clean plus it's a vegan formula, which I'm psyched about.
Name three of your products a woman has to stockpile in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
Well, there's always the Shade + Light contour palette and you could break the brushes and use those to fend off the zombies (laughs) but personally I would say the tattoo liner. If I were stuck on a desert or anywhere, I could do my eyeliner, lashes, eyebrows...there's so much I could do with it that I feel that's probably a really key product, and I think you guys are going to love the formula.
You're a tattoo artist, model, musician, entrepreneur, and television personality. With so many personas on your plate, do you feel that there's something else you still want to explore but have yet to?
Yeah, there are tons of things! I love the world of design — it's always something I'll love and I'm also a big fan of architecture. Actually, it's funny because I just hooked up with a shoe company called Deandri. They are super rad and I've been wanting to create a vegan shoe line for quite some time. They're my friends and they have a family business in Thailand where they employ old school generations of cobblers, so we're teaming up together to start a creative process when I go back to LA. But this also means I'll be coming back to Southeast Asia more often!
Since you flew 20 hours to be here in Singapore, what are some of the products in your in-flight beauty bag you can't live without, especially for long haul trips?
I think the key is drinking water. I also have a small travel-sized makeup remover, my complexion scrub, cleanser and moisturiser that I like to use. Some people sleep with their makeup on even for such a long flight, but I like to take it off cause I don't like to sleep with it.
For a more intense hydration, I love Fresh and they have this rose petal mask that's so good. I love the way it smells and it does leave your skin really nice and moisturised, which when you're travelling on such a long flight is really great. I don't go as far as putting on a mask but I might after I land. I really think drinking water is the main key. I would drink more water than I'd ever want!
Fans who keep updated on your Instagram have gotten wind of your upcoming collaboration with Too Faced. Is there anything you can share with us on that?
Of course! Jerrod, the owner of Too Faced, has always very nice to me and there's never been a brand collaboration in the beauty industry so it's very exciting. You'd think people in the industry would be more supportive of each other, but that's not the case because I think people get intimidated. But Jerrod has always been encouraging to me, as a brand and a person, and he's been so welcoming and sincere. We share the same views even as far as anti-animal cruelty, so to me this feels like such a no-brainer.
I know Too Faced has a specific style that's very different, but we are more alike than we are different and in coming together, we're better together. So we're calling the collection 'Better Together' and it's coming in three different kind of departments; we've got new eyeshadows, new shades of lipsticks and a few other little surprises! I'm so excited that you guys are getting the inventory too. It'll be launching in Southeast Asia on Valentine's Day, so it's probably going to sell out very quickly!
Kat Von D Beauty is launching exclusively in store at Ion Sephora on 23 July