Upfront and unapologetic, Kat Von D’s refreshing approach to discussing the world left us renewed. Far from simply preaching facts and figures from a press release, one of the industry’s best-known artists stands against those who mean harm to others, while encasing her fans in love and praise.
Inked: You’re in Australia to meet your fans and for the launch of Sephora and your make-up line here; is Australia living up to your expectations?
Kat Von D: I don’t think I had any expectations of Australia. Every single interaction I’ve had with an Australian person has been really kind, so that’s good. I’m excited for Australia to finally have Sephora. I don’t know how you’ve been doing it this whole time, like how do you get stuff?
I used this [trip] as a great way to actually meet my fans. It’s my first time
in this country. I am acutely aware of my following here and it’s not like I felt like I owed it, but it was something that I selfishly wanted to do. Ultimately that was my first goal, coming to do the meet and greet.
You do have a lot of quite full-on fans!
It’s science; my fans are the best! I don’t even like calling them fans because I don’t see them that way. They write me letters saying, “You’re a big inspiration” and they have no idea… I feel the same about them.
They keep me on my toes, [laughing] it’s like, “Shit, I better hit the drawing board to keep up with these guys” – they’re so talented. I’m a huge advocate for handwritten stuff. In the US they’ve stopped teaching handwriting. When I first got wind of that my heart literally broke. That cannot be! What are people’s signatures going to be like? I’m already not impressed with them as it is.
What will they sign, Xs? And what of drawing skills if you can’t hold a pencil?
It’s so interesting because I always have my drawing stuff with me and I do a sketch a day. When I landed here I was almost out of pencils and it was a mission to find one here…. The oversaturation of technology – it’s a good thing, but it also encumbers creative thought and being able to delve deeper into things.
One of my favourite modern day painters is [Odd] Nerdrum. He’s Norwegian and he’s a figurative painter so he paints in the old masters’ style. He stretches his own canvases and is very traditional. He has a book called Refugee and there is a quote in there about how art is the last truth in humanity and I thought, “If that’s the remaining truth then it’s sad because what people call art now is laughable”. But I think it is a direct reflection of society and humanity in general and – without sounding too much like a ‘Debbie Downer’ because I don’t think it speaks for everybody – people are living on a certain superficial wavelength that does not withstand the test of time. So at this point, one of two things will happen, well, I think: it’s either going to get worse or people will finally get fed up. And I think they are starting to get fed up and are starting to crave that quality again.
People pushing back from it all?
Yes. They start to learn how to play music again, stop being famous because you’re obnoxious on YouTube – versus having a talent.
Yes! There are no heroes anymore! I don’t have a modern day hero. They’re all dead.
I meet so many people and it’s rare for people to actually have something to say. It sort of all gets mixed up in clutter.
I think for me, with the make-up line, I get torn because I know exactly what my intentions are when I’m creating the line, which is to create these tools that will give people a means to be able to express themselves in an artful-minded way if they want to. Or you can follow trends too, if you want to. But the ones that count for me, in my book, are the girls and boys who use the make-up and it literates them on that frequency, which that meet and greet was a confirmation of.
I save every single letter that I receive from fans, but I forwarded one to my support team going, “If we ever feel like giving up, let’s revert back to this letter”. This girl told me how alone she felt in a world where you don’t feel you can relate and something as little as an eye shadow palette or a lipstick can make you feel less alien. I love that because I didn’t have that.
Like trying to get a black lipstick growing up…
[laughs] I wore eyeliner!
We had to import it all! Did you always have a fascination with make-up?
I wore it all! At way too young an age, of course! But my approach to make-up is never to emulate someone’s style or change my existing look. Contouring, for example, I have a contour palette coming out and I struggled with it because I like the idea of being able to use this ‘formula’ to create the optical illusion of, say, making your cheekbones appear higher, but it would be an absolute nightmare if people walked away thinking that the message was “Hey, change who you are!” I think most people contour when they don’t need to, they’re perfect the way they are. But if you want to have fun and get dramatic… personally I like myself best without any make-up, but I enjoy putting it on. It’s fun, do you know what I mean?
Take me to an art store or a make-up store and it’s the same thing; my eyes always go to glitter [laughter]. Make-up shouldn’t be taken that seriously in that sense, it should be fun. It shouldn’t be about confirming this bullshit ideology that people are a slave to.
Most Australians don’t know about Sephora…
You guys barely know! You’re finally getting to know Sephora. We [Kat Von D make-up] celebrated seven years and counting and it’s gotten so crazy. It’s grown so dramatically in a pleasantly surprising way. Everyone asks, “Is this a dream come true?” and I’m not even sure I ever had this on my radar as a dream to have. But when the opportunity did arise it was very exciting. It was when I was about 22 and I just got Miami Ink. I haven’t owned a TV in like 19 years now, I’m pretty anti-TV, so when the show aired I had to gauge the response by how people treated me in public. This was also in the time of MySpace, pre Twitter and all that stuff. All I knew was that girls were asking, “What red is that?” and I think once Sephora picked up on that curiosity they were like, “Who is this girl Kat?” They had never collaborated with someone that wasn’t a make-up artist before.
I remember sitting in a room with my creative team – which is still the same team today, they’re like family to me – and they asked me, “What do you like?” I was like, “Where do you want me to start?” And they said, “Okay, let’s start with the four most perfect shades of lipstick.” I was like Oh. My. God. Four! I thought we were just going to make a lipstick. And now I’ve lost count, the last release of new colour extensions was 30. It’s really amazing to see. I’m never going to have kids so it’s hard to have that metaphor, but I’ve planted seeds and to see them take shape and life is something so beautiful.
The packaging is so beautiful, down to every detail.
I micro manage all of it. I could do the lazy thing and sign a contract and licensing deal and then they put my name on something, and the person who should take credit for their success is therefore the assistants. But with me, I am the one that shows up to every meeting, I test all of the formulas ahead of time, I give notes with the shade and I come up with the concepts. Every single piece of artwork that you see is all done by me, so this is definitely a direct labour of love. It comes from my brain and into reality.
It’s a passion project?
Yes, and I know that most of those things are such subtle details that go over most people’s heads, but when I meet my fans and they say, “Did you name Bachelorette after Bjork?” and I’m like, “Yes, that’s my favourite Bjork song and I love it that you know that!” Coral Castle was a popular from the old collection and if people Google ‘Coral Castle’ they’ll find the most amazing story of all time, and they do!
At the signing I was taken aback when people brought their H.P. Lovecraft books. I’ve named so many shades after my favourite authors and to be in the same sentence – as in, they think about me when they read that – is the biggest compliment!
It’s the little details – the skulls and roses for me – that are the most appealing.
Yes, and I think for me, coming from the world of tattooing. If you come to my shop there is absolutely no flash on the wall, my team and I create everything from our minds. I don’t think it’s important to emulate things that have already been done. I think it’s much more admirable and productive to be a pioneer than to follow a trend. It also gets boring to reinvent that wheel. But when I approach a tattoo, the client comes in and they have an idea and we collaborate. If two people come in with the same idea it’s going to look different based off the composition of the body and their muscle structure, so I kind of see that we when start designing the palettes. That rose pattern that you like really isn’t a pattern at all. Like the Louis Vuitton pattern is just stamped on with various measurements between the monograms, whereas with these [make-up packaging designs] I’m given the measurements for each component and I design it to that – just like a tattoo. So, I think that’s why everything feels right. There are no weird seams.
With all this how do you get time to tattoo?
I tattoo pretty regularly actually. When I’m back home I’m at the shop nearly every day, if not to tattoo then just to be there. I love my guys, they’re like the brothers I never had. It’s fun. I don’t really work. I’ve never worked, which is why I’ve never taken a vacation. There is no need for it. Work is photoshoots, stuff that I don’t want to do. But the action of creating is not work for me, it’s just fun.
It’s just what you do!
Yeah, so how do I balance, or find time to have fun! I’m selfish in that way. It’s hard when I’m travelling … after a month of being away from the shop I start getting really weird and moody [laughs]; like a fish out of water. Because of the success of the TV show I get pigeonholed, but really tattooing is probably one of the smaller things on my array of creative spectrum. I’ve been playing classical music since I was five years old and I think that is a more innate outlet for me than anything else. And the drawing I do every day, plus my make-up and I sew…
How do you marry the brand of ‘Kat Von D’ and people’s expectations of you, with you just being you?
There is a terrible programming that is happening now … which is social media and this sense of entitlement. The older I get the less empathy I have towards people with that mentality. I think it is lunacy that people see the illusionary effects of fame and think that it makes you different somehow. I’m not complaining by any means, but I’m not in agreeance with it. I don’t think there is a difference between myself and anybody else. There is nothing special about me and there is nothing special about you, there is nothing special about any of us … for me it’s finding the balance between me being too sensitive, and being able to let go and not care as much. I’m having an easier time now and have set some boundaries.
I can understand it when people do things that I think are inappropriate, but I don’t put up with it anymore. I don’t think it’s okay to find out where I live and come to my house. I think when you sit outsides somebody’s hotel that it’s inappropriate. It doesn’t mean I don’t understand what you’re doing, I still love you, but I like my privacy. I think I’ve done a pretty good job, and I reply to many fans and give them intentional time on my social media and stuff, but I can’t say I enjoy it. Instagram is my biggest pet peeve. I like Twitter because you can directly respond to things, with Instagram people don’t read the caption. I can say, “Here’s a picture of my cat” and they think it says: “Hey tell me what you think about my cat”. And I’m offended that you think your opinion matters or should be heard, because it shouldn’t. People think they’re entitled to an opinion and I hate that mentality. I think it’s wrong. If I was to walk around and tell people what I think of their tattoos off the top of my head I’d make so many enemies, but the truth of the matter is I don’t care. I think whatever makes you happy. If I was asked if I think they should get that tattoo, then it might be a different answer, but I love people as they are! I also feel like there is no point in fighting it.
I’ve seen that a lot over the years. When we started the magazine, social media was polite. Now when we put up a cover people are just plain rude. It’s “she’s too big”, “she’s too small”, “she’s this or that”… No, she’s beautiful! It doesn’t matter what size she is…
I see that too and I can never win! My idea of beautiful is so different to the conventional, especially what women are self-imposing right now. Even coming here it’s interesting, because I read a press release, and I don’t even know where they got these pictures, but I fluctuate in weight 15 pound here and there. Personally I am cursed, because if I lose 15 pounds my boobs and my arse are gone, but I’m toned and fit. Right now I’m on the upper side of things – which I like, I love my womanly body – and my face is chubbier but I’ve never had plastic surgery… “Oh my god, she’s changed”, but Australia, you’re watching my TV show from when I was 22. But hey, I think I’m doing ok. Whatever changes you see on my face they are no fault to any doctor, just Mother Nature. Blame her!
If you like plastic surgery, then that’s cool for you, I don’t even care. But personally, I’ve looked forward to my 50s since I was little. That’s what I always imagined would be my golden decade. I can’t wait to see what that looks like. I feel being able to gracefully age has more sexiness
There is no room in my life for ‘woe is me’ because I look at people who work in a cubicle and think the same dynamics happen. There is no difference than to what it’s like in high school. I perceived high school as training to deal with the social circles you’re going to have to endure in your adult life till you die. Even in the retirement home you’re going to get the drama. The only difference is that people talk shit about me in tabloids. I don’t read them so
I don’t care. I get bad comments, but I get more good comments.
I was watching a documentary the other day and Australia has the number one highest rate of suicide due to cyberbullying, which I was shocked at because I though we would beat you for sure. In my mind I thought, “I wonder what the solution is?” They were like, “We’ve gotta figure out this law…” There is no law that can change the root of the problem, which is how we bring up our kids. It always comes down to that: why would you be mean to someone. It isn’t rocket science… why can’t we be nicer to each other? I was blessed with parents who taught me to never feel that way towards others. Going back to my cat, because that’s a lighthearted example, if I post a picture of my cat I always get bad comments because my cats don’t have hair, and it’s so awful. The amount of energy people use is baffling. If you posted something that I though was disgusting there is zero part of me – and even more so if I’ve never met you – that would need to tell you what I think. It’s weird.
I’m a big advocate for the idea that it takes as much effort to tell someone that you love their work, or their music, as it take to be negative – so go tell someone you’ve inspired them!
I think it has more to do with what we’ve become versus the actual words we’re saying. I’m not impressed with people’s grammar and their $10 vocabulary so that’s already a problem. Lack of consciousness – and you see it in the way people walk, which is probably why I hate airports so much. It may not be a big deal for you to look left before you walk, but it shows no consideration for your surroundings [when you don’t]. Zoom out to the bigger picture and this planet; we’re so undeserving of everything we have and selfishly living in a state of denial.
So true… So anyway, the make-up line is cool! [laughs]
BY VANESSA MORGAN PHOTOS SUPPLIED BY SEPHORA