After her reality show LA Ink became a ratings phenomenon Kat Von D quickly found herself the star of the show. A lot has happened since then, her private life became very public following high profile relationships with Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue and Jesse James, the former Mr Sandra Bullock. She’s become a brand in her own right with book deals and make-up lines, even starting her own music festival/tattoo convention, MusInk. While she was in town with her latest clothing line I caught up with her to talk style development, hitting Hot Topic at 30 and buying steak and DVDs at WallMart.
As someone with a more alternative background you’ve still managed to stay true to your style roots, without looking like a teenager. How do think you’ve managed that?
I know, it’s pretty weird right? I was thinking about that the other day, because do you guys have Hot Topic here? It’s like a little gothy kind of store, more for kids, and I was too punk rock to go there when I was younger, but actually as I got older I was like, ‘Oh there’s some really cool stuff’ so I’d look in when I went to the mall, and then I remember going ‘Oh, I’ve turned into the lady who goes into Hot Topic!’ and when I was little I would be going, ‘What is that lady doing here?’
But at the same time I was really lucky to have parents who instilled the freedom to just be who you are without worrying about anything else. It’s hard for me to put into words because I don’t think that my outward appearance defines me in anyway, it’s not who I am per se, my parents taught me the freedom to just ‘be’ regardless of whether you’re a conservative person or not. I’ve always been an outwardly expressive person whether it’s the way I do my make-up or wearing things that may seem funny to others.
I think there’s also a way of gracefully maturing without having to surrender to what’s expected as a woman. Society seems to think there’s something wrong with you if you’re not married or you don’t have kids. I think a lot of those things are slowly dissipating because women are becoming CEO’s and doing the stuff that ‘the boys’ do. There’s always that part of it, about what is expected and I am not connected to that in any way, shape or form and I can tend to be a little rebellious with it, like I refuse to learn how to cook. Not because I can’t, I’m sure I could, it’s just that I worry it could take my superhero powers away. My artist friends are sitting there telling me cooking is a form of art and I go ‘I know, I know’ it’s just that I’m stubborn. I can’t help it, I don’t know any other way to be. I don’t think I’m lucky, I just think I made a wise choice to be free of all that.
Do you think the way the world has changed over the last 20 or 30 years has made it easier for you to have that freedom and be yourself more?
Yeah, of course. If you think about 5 or 7 years ago the image of tattooing, there were some very negative stigmas which were not accurate, and it took the popularity of television shows like Miami Ink and LA Ink to change that, and also celebrity. If you see that a celebrity wears a tattoo it becomes more of a household thing, and I see nothing wrong with that, I’m just happy people are becoming more open minded to all of that, but if they didn’t I wouldn’t care anyway.
We are constantly evolving and in the 60’s the idea of the Beatles was crazy and then you go back to the 1600’s and the idea of Beethoven was crazy, so I don't think we’re getting worse, we’re all just evolving.
Did you ever set out to develop your career beyond tattooing or imagine it would make you such a celebrity?
Never in a million years. The celebrity stuff I have resentment issues with because I haven’t watched television in 16 years. I don’t own one. I’m pretty anti-TV in general, anti-tabloids and stuff, it’s more that I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would have the ability to do all of these things. Of course I would want to, but it’s not like I said when I want to grow up I’m going to have a shoe line or my dream is to be a fashion designer. I never had those kind of dreams.
I just knew I wanted to draw a lot and then the tattooing thing happened, and again that wasn’t an idea I had preconceived as a child. I honestly wanted to be just like my dad, because he was a doctor but I was always drawing and I wanted to do something with that too.
I remember doing my first tattoo and it felt like home, it was that feeling of coming home and I just knew, not quite that 'this was what I was meant to do', because that sounds more romanticised but it was organic, cool and I thought I want to do more of this. I didn’t even know it was a job. As long as I’m able to stay in touch with that feeling, that’s what’s important in whatever I’m doing, be it the clothing line, the make-up line, or the music. I don’t get sidetracked with expectations from others or ideas of what is right and wrong, I just do it.
Obviously I have guidance, I’m not a fashion designer, I don’t flatter myself in saying that, but I like designing, I like using my hands. We have an awesome team that really gets me, I can give them a drawing and little poetic blurb of what I’m trying to get across and they can help me with the spec because that’s where I think I lack. It’s really a team effort, and it’s been two years now that we’ve been doing this and they’ve all become family to me. It has my name on it but really it is a team effort. I’ll just take all the punches when we get talked shit about.
Do you have any real stand out favourite pieces from the clothing line?
We have a rule, ‘When in doubt, throw it out’ and then I always say if I’m not going to wear it, I don’t want to make it. Every single piece is something that I love and there are some things I wear more then others like the Napoleon coat is one of my favourites. I like a lot of the tailored stuff and it seems like that’s the stuff that people are most responsive to.
You've just launched your shoe line, how has that been?
This is the first time we’ve done shoes. It’s awesome, so much fun. Both the clothing and shoes are split into two sections Kat Von D and KVD. Kat Von D is what we call the white label and KVD is the red line. Basically the price point is the difference, the red line is more fun and flirty and where you’ll find the neon colours and things like that whereas the white line is a little more sophisticated, a little more romantic, but I just wanted to be able to create.
I’m pretty keen on understanding what my following is, I just want to make sure that I keep them in mind in terms of accessibility. I don’t want to create something selfishly that’s just for me to wear, although I want to wear it, I want it to be something that resonates with people too.
I know what it’s like not to have much money, I could never afford Vivienne Westwood bondage pants, I wanted to so bad but I couldn’t so I used to sew them myself. It’s how I learned how to sew so I feel like having a different price bracket allows people to still take part in all of this stuff without pricing anyone out and without sacrificing the quality. I’m not interested in making something that sells a shit ton at WallMart, not that all of it is shit but you can go in there and buy a steak and a fucking DVD or something.
We have similar stores over here too where people can go and pick up their vegetables and a bathrobe.
And with record sales Walmart is 60% of sales, it’s pretty depressing. It limits what people will be exposed to in terms of chart stuff. And also there’s censorship involved in that too. And I think that’s why I’ve always loved independent movies and independent designers vs corporate because when you’re doing things independently you don’t have the limitations and expectation that comes with funding. You see these blockbusters and it’s like, they’re really dumbed down a lot of the time and I always wonder what the original script would read like? Probably better? Not because, in the case of horror it’s more gory but because it’s probably a little more profound, you know what I mean? I think people don’t give consumers enough credit sometimes, they dumb down.
Kat Von D 'Wolf Like Me' AW/12 and KVD clothing and shoes are available here.