Behind the Cult of Kat Von D

Kat Von D

Kat Von D

Kat Von D is every bit the cultural icon in real life as you’d expect – strikingly adorned in tattoo works of art, the Miami Ink and LA Ink star is warm, charming, and meticulously knowledgeable about every aspect of her make-up line, Kat Von D Beauty. The collection – expertly displayed beside the sofa where we lounge and chat – is practically worshipped in the beauty blogosphere, and has finally reached Malaysian shores via Sephora. In this intimate interview, Kat reveals the tale behind her success, what’s to come, and her sources and secrets of creativity.

How did your love affair with make-up begin?

It wasn’t about looking like Barbie or looking pretty…it was about self expression. It was around the time I started listening to punk and rock and roll, and make-up was a natural transition. I didn’t want to look like anyone else; it was just intuitive and I still do my make-up that way. For instance, I might listen to a certain song in the morning, and that’s how my make-up will be inspired for the day.

When and why did you decide to turn this passion into a business?

It’s similar to when I started tattooing, because when I started that career, which was unconventional and not everyone was supportive of, I never saw it as a business opportunity – I just loved it. And with make-up, when I took a creative meeting with Sephora, I didn’t think, “I’m going to strike gold,” because I saw it as an opportunity to make something rad out of something I love. I think that intention to create is a big part of my success. Nowadays, the consumer is intelligent enough to know when something is a licensing deal or actually sincere.

 Cult favourite: Kat Von D Beauty Tattoo Liner

Cult favourite: Kat Von D Beauty Tattoo Liner

What inspires you?

To me, inspiration is global, and I’m inspired by all the places I’ve been to and the people I’ve met. Sure, my Latin culture is part of it, but it’s more universal that that. At airports, I see all these beautiful people and something happens. In an age when we’re stuck in our phones, it’s easy to miss all these opportune moments. I have no shortage of inspiration, and I’ll probably die trying to create all the things I want to create.

Can you tell us about the creative process?

It’s very hands on. I test every single formula ahead of time, and do all the graphics, artwork, layout and packaging. For the componentry, I will sit down and draw it as I see it in my mind, and my team will have a prototype carved out of clay. I really wanted a handcrafted feel, and when you hold the Studded Kiss Lipsticks or the Eyeshadow Quad, something about it in your hand feels good. It’s important to be intentional with every aspect of the line; if the stuff on the inside is good, the outside should reflect that.

Kat Von D Beauty Studded Kiss Lipstick in Plan 9

Kat Von D Beauty Studded Kiss Lipstick in Plan 9

Best part of the creative process?

When an idea has materialised and I can hold it in my hand – I feel giddy like a child. To see something become a reality time after time is proof that all the years of everyone telling me that this was not a realistic thing to pursue was worth it. I’m glad I didn’t listen to those voices.

Most challenging?

Fulfilling the desire to make this a global venture. It shouldn’t have taken so long to come to Southeast Asia, but we wanted to make sure everything was in line – we have big problems with inventory in the state, with items selling out and taking ages to restock, and I didn’t want that here. The way we work with factories is hands on and personable; I’m just not interested in mass producing. It takes time because people behind the scenes, such as the women hand pouring the lipstick, are so careful with quality and their work ethic.

Kat Von D gets up close and personal with Aisha Hassan. Beauty Writer of Harper's BAZAAR

Kat Von D gets up close and personal with Aisha Hassan. Beauty Writer of Harper’s BAZAAR

Which product were you most excited to create?

There’s a palette that’s been in the work for seven years, because we’re trying to find the perfect formulation while still maintaining a certain price point. I was super poor growing up, so I want my products to be accessible. The palette is called The Alchemist Palette, and it’s launching next year – you can use it for everything.

Why are you veganising your entire line?

Veganism isn’t just what you eat; it’s an entirely different way of consciously living. You don’t realize how much we exploit animals, and it’s something I want to delete from my collection. I’d say 98% of my collection is already vegan, and we’re harnessing technology to change the rest. My website ( even has a Vegan Alert feature, to help our consumers navigate around what is vegan-friendly and what isn’t yet. It’s good to be asked about veganism, because people weren’t widely aware about it 5 or 6 years ago – someone had to teach me, so why not spread the word?

The iconic Kat Von D Beauty Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in Exorcism, a majestic plum shade

The iconic Kat Von D Beauty Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in Exorcism, a majestic plum shade

What do you want to tell the Malaysian consumer?

In South East Asia, you guys have massive social media influencers, which is awesome, and there’s always been an animated approach to make-up fashion which, in many ways, was ahead of the West. It’ll just be exciting to give you the tools to express yourselves even more, and to help me discover new things as well; I want to be part of it all, because it’s really exciting.

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Kat Von D Lock-It Concealer

Kat Von D Beauty is available at Sephora nationwide. For Kat Von D’s go-to make-up look, keep an eye out for the Beauty section in Harper’s BAZAAR Malaysia September 2016 issue.