She's the 34-year-old tattooing star of Miami Ink and LA Ink who now divides her time between inking and her eight-year-old eponymous make-up line. Born Katherine von Drachenberg, the straight-talking multi-hyphenate and head honcho of High Voltage Tattoo in Hollywood has famously left her ink-delible mark — literally — on Hollywood A-listers like Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus, and gets booked up months in advance. Those who can’t score an appointment can still get preened by the Mexican-born, LA-raised star (sorta): Kat Von D Beauty is available at Sephora stores.
8 DAYS: Now that you have your own line of make-up, do you remember the first cosmetic product you bought?
KAT VON D: It was a US$0.99 (S$1.32) cheap lipstick in deep black cherry that my sister and I shared. In Los Angeles, there’s a huge Mexican culture of gangs, and Mexican girls had a specific style. My sister, who’s more dark-skinned and looks more Latin than I do, would wear dark lipstick like many of her friends did. It was really cool ’cos even though we had different styles — I was into goth and all that — we used the same lipstick. It was from a drugstore and smelled like plastic; it was terrible. So when I came up with my own make-up line, I had such a deep nostalgic connection to that shade that I ended up re-creating it in my collection — it’s called ‘Homegirl’ — but with better quality.
What’s one beauty item that women should spend more money on?
Primer. Some people don't necessarily invest enough in it, but I’m a huge advocate of primer. I don't use eyeshadow without putting on eyeshadow primer first. You get less fall out and get bolder colour that lasts throughout the day.
Social media has grown in a huge way since you launched your line in 2008. Does it change the way you think about your products and packaging?
Social media has been a big game changer for all of the beauty industry. It doesn’t necessarily change how I come up with ideas ’cos I come up with them regardless. But it’s a very exciting time ’cos you get regular young people who now have a really great platform to practice, and who get to shine with their talents. Within the Instagram community, there are so many talented beauty influencers that I have made friends with. I’ve also met some really great people [through Instagram] that I’ve hired. I’m very active on my own Instagram and I curate content for the Kat Von D Beauty account as well. I’m a fan of make-up so [it’s natural] that I’m a fan of make-up influencers too.
What did you do with your first pay cheque?
I don't remember. I think ’cos we were brought up so poor, I was always very efficient about saving my money, so I’m sure I went to the bank to deposit it. Before tattooing, I’d passed popcorn out at movie theatres, worked at a clothing store at the mall, and delivered newspapers.
No extravagant buys?
No, I was never like that. I mean, I’ve bought cars for my family members but that was way later. There are things I love to collect, whether it’s make-up or shoes, but I don't have too many crazy extravagant addictions. (Laughs) Oh, but I love paintings. I collect art and that’s definitely something I invest a lot of money in. I have a good amount at home.
How much did you get paid for the first tattoo you ever did?
Nothing. I did that one for my friend when I was 14. I remember every single tattoo I’ve ever done. That one was a Misfits skull [logo] — one of my favourite bands — and I’ve named many lipstick shades after their song titles. But that tattoo was not professional by any means. One of my friends was doing tattoos and he appreciated my art and said I should try doing tattoos. I see pictures of it now and it looks terrible. (Laughs) The art was there; just that the technique wasn’t.
Is there any place on the body you’d never tattoo?
For myself, I stay away from tattooing my chest ’cos boobs are distracting enough, and I like to have eye contact when I’m talking to people. But I’ve seen girls with beautiful chest pieces and it looks good for them.
You have a tattoo business, a beauty line and have organised music festivals. What would you say has been your best investment as a businesswoman?
Oh my god, so many. In all aspects of business — from the tattoo shop to the beauty line — [it’s been great to] start from the ground up, even though it could have been a lot easier for me to spend a little money to hire people to do the job for me. I remember when I opened my tattoo shop, I helped with the construction, and once it was built, I was mopping floors and cleaning the bathroom. I knew I wasn’t going to do it forever, but I knew if I understood every aspect of my shop, I could run it a lot better. Right now, I get exhausted doing a lot of stuff for the make-up line, but I think it’s important to understand the structure of things, so that later on when you have people to help you, you understand the system in place. I’ve met tons of successful CEOs and they tell me the same thing as well. Their empathy level for their co-workers is different ’cos they’ve been there. Some of the most successful people I’ve met worked their way up from being janitors and I think that’s pretty amazing.