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Kat Von D is a world-renowned tattoo artist, and the former owner of a namesake beauty brand.
She was born in Mexico, started tattooing at 16, and went on to star in shows like "LA Ink."
Von D has also feuded with internet stars, and faced major backlash throughout her career.
Kat Von D is many things: a tattoo artist, a reality-television star, and a former beauty executive.
She's also a controversial figure who has been met with claims of anti-Semitism, faced backlash for her parenting views, and feuded with internet stars.
Despite her divisive public persona, Von D has had a wide-ranging career and made an impact on pop culture. Here's what you need to know about her, from her tattoo legacy to her fall from the beauty industry.
Kat Von D was born in 1982 as Katherine Von Drachenberg.
Sylvia Galeano and René Drachenberg welcomed Kat Von D into the world on March 8, 1982. She was born in Montemorelos, a city in the state of Nuevo León, Mexico. In an essay for Popsugar in 2016, Von D explained that her family had moved to the area so that her father could work as a missionary doctor.
She added that their home "didn't have electricity or running water for a long time," and that she was bathed in a plastic bucket as a child. Von D also described some of her earliest memories as "running around barefoot on the packed dirt," which served as her home's floor.
By 1988, when Von D was 6 years old, her family had immigrated to Loma Linda, California, alongside other members of the Seventh-Day-Adventist faith, according to Von D's essay.
She started using makeup as a teenager to help express herself.
Speaking to Dazed Digital in 2019, Von D said she originally "fell in love with the theatrics and drama of makeup," and used beauty products as an "outward expression of whatever it was that was going on inside."
"I was inspired by music, music, music!" she told the publication. "I remember once I discovered punk-rock music, it wasn't necessarily a style that I was emulating, but I subscribed more to the feeling of being free. The honesty that comes from 'not giving a f---.' That's what really shaped my style."
She then began tattooing at the age of 14, and dropped out of high school to pursue her passion.
As previously reported by Glamour UK, Von D gave her first tattoo — a small Misfits skull — to a friend at the age of 14. At the time, she used a DIY tattoo gun made from a guitar string and a motor that was meant for a cassette player.
Two years later, 16-year-old Von D dropped out of high school and got a job at Sin City Tattoo in Los Angeles, California, according to the publication.
Though Von D's parents were supportive of her art, the tattoo artist told PR.com in 2008 that they had some trouble accepting her career choice.
"I think when I started getting tattoos it was really scary for them, and you know, I had a Mohawk and I was 14 when I stopped going to school," she said. "My dad's a doctor and they were missionaries for the church. It was kind of scary for them, but a decade later, and a TV show later — whatever it takes to make them understand where I'm coming from."
Though the decision to leave school worried Von D's parents, the choice eventually led her to star on two seasons of "Miami Ink."
"Miami Ink" was a reality-television show that premiered on TLC in 2005. Though Von D wasn't part of the show's original cast, she was asked to fill in for artist Daren Brass when he injured his elbow during its first season.
Von D told PR.com in 2008 that she originally thought the idea of a tattoo-themed show sounded "boring," though she later came around and was excited to be its first female star. That being said, Von D added that "there was friction" between herself and other cast members.
"It didn't end up pretty, and it was time for me to go home," she told the publication. Von D eventually left the series in 2007.
TLC gave Von D her own spin-off series called "LA Ink."
After leaving "Miami Ink" in 2007, Von D began to star in her own series "LA Ink" that same year. In a now-archived 2008 interview with Inked Magazine, the tattoo artist said her show had "triple the amount of viewers" that "Miami Ink" did. She also described the latter program as "monotonous and repetitive," which she felt was different than her spin-off.
"The guys weren't willing to involve their real life in the show, whereas I promised myself, aside from my divorce, I would talk about anything," she told the magazine. "People can relate to you more when you're real and show your imperfections. I'm an open book. Our show is more rock 'n' roll and honest."
She also added that she was proud of the show's editors for not including footage that showed her "wasted."
"I never thought that I would care about that stuff, but after reading emails [from viewers], I don't want kids to think it's cool to be a wastoid," she told Inked Magazine. "The first time I was on 'Miami Ink' I said I dropped out of high school at 14, after two weeks. Then I get 12-year-olds telling me they want to drop out of school and be a tattooer too. I was like, 'F---!' That is not something I promote at all."
In 2007, she set a world record for tattooing the most people in a single day.
On December 14, 2007, she tattooed a Guinness-approved LA logo in red-and-black ink on 400 people. She charged $20 for each tattoo, with proceeds going to the Vitamin Angels nonprofit organization. Some people lined up 48 hours ahead of time for a chance to get the tattoo, and police later had to break up a crowd of more than 1,000 people, according to the World Record Academy.
To make sure she tattooed as many people as possible, according to the Academy, Von D is said to have drunk minimal liquids, wore nicotine patches so that she wouldn't crave cigarettes, and only took 3-minute-long breaks.
The record was later broken by Robbie Koch, who gave over 577 tattoos in a single day.
Von D has dozens of tattoos herself, which include names of loved ones, portraits, and more.
Speaking to PR.com in 2008, Von D described tattoos as a form of expression: "I didn't do this as an attention-seeking act of rebelling. It was more, I actually just like this and I want to get tattooed, and I want it so much that I don't care if other people treat me differently."
Von D also said that while she used to give herself tattoos, she later began collecting body art from 30 to 40 artists around the world. According to TatRing, some of her pieces include Beethoven's initials, portraits of her mom and sister, multiple flowers, and numerous nods to her exes. Her most notable tattoo is arguably the string of stars around her left eye.
Luckily for Von D, she doesn't regret any of her ink.
She told Inked Magazine in 2008: "I have lots of people's names on me and it's not so much like, 'Oh, I'm gonna regret my ex-husband's name on my neck.' It's more like a time in my life that I don't regret. I don't regret my divorce either. I'll rock it forever."
She eventually had to stop taking tattoo appointments to catch up on her long list of requests.
While it's unclear exactly when Von D stopped taking tattoo appointments at High Voltage Tattoo, she told Dazed Digital in 2019 that she promised herself long ago to "work really hard" and get to a place where she "wouldn't have to rely on tattooing for money."
"I wanted to be able to tattoo freely and offer my craft as a gift to whomever I tattooed," she told the publication. "For me, it was liberating to take the financial part of it out — but it's not something I necessarily 'promote.'"
At the time of writing, the High Voltage website says Von D is one of the "most-requested artists" at its studio. However, "she is no longer accepting requests for tattoos in order to catch up with the ones she has."
She entered the beauty industry in 2008 as part of a deal with Sephora.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Von D's brand launched as a limited-edition line on May 12, 2008. At the time, it only offered a set that included four lipsticks, two eye-shadow palettes, six eyeliners, and brushes.
She appeared on Hillary Kerr's "Second Life" podcast in January and shared some insight into the creation of her namesake beauty brand. She said she "had no idea" what she was doing when Sephora first called her, but that she was a "bit defiant" in making sure that she and her brand didn't "fit in" with others at the time.
"I was trying to create something that wasn't made, and we did that," she said. "I remember telling them, 'Hey, I don't go to Sephora because it's f---ing boring. At that time, you would walk down the aisle and everything was the same."
Von D's brand quickly became a favorite among makeup enthusiasts and beauty influencers.
While Von D's fans were immediately fond of her brand in 2008, other beauty enthusiasts caught on a few years later. YouTubers especially helped her products rise to fame online, with influencers like Manny MUA, Tati Westbrook, and NikkieTutorials making videos about her line.
The popularity was seemingly the result of Von D's unique packaging, standout shades, and innovative launches. As Cheryl Wischhover reported for Racked in 2017, the tattoo artist released one of the first long-lasting matte lipsticks through her brand.
The Kat Von D label also seemingly did well in terms of sales. Kendo, the owner of the cosmetics line, described Kat Von D to Wischhover in 2017 as one of its "top-selling brands." And while Sephora doesn't share sales statistics, as pointed out by Racked, Von D's Studded Kiss Lipstick is said to have been the retailer's best-selling lipstick in 2015.
She became an author in 2009, and has released three books to date.
Her first book, "High Voltage Tattoo," details the start of Von D's life, her early career, and photos of her many tattoos.
She then followed up with "The Tattoo Chronicles," an illustrated diary about tattoos she's given, in 2010, and her 2013 collection of essays titled "Go Big or Go Home: Taking Risks in Life, Love, and Tattooing."
At the height of her fame, Von D formed a friendship with controversial internet personality Jeffree Star.
Though Jeffree Star is now known as a controversial makeup mogul, he originally rose to fame on MySpace and through his music in the early 2000s. In a 2016 YouTube video, Star explained that he met Von D around that time in 2007 when he emailed her to request a series of tattoos.
He also mentioned that he's featured in all three of her books, and read a passage that said: "My dear, dear Jeffree. Thanks for being a part of this dream for me. You've added so much shiny, glittery life to not only this book, but my tattooing. So proud to call you a friend."
Star then thanked Von D for giving him "some of the most beautiful artwork" he's ever seen.
Von D and her brand faced backlash in 2013 and 2015 after it released lipsticks with controversial shade names.
In 2013, the Kat Von D brand released a beige lipstick named "Celebutard." As HuffPost reported at the time, customers — as well as mothers and organizations like Down Syndrome Uprising and All About Developmental Disabilities — expressed frustration with the name across social media.
Sephora pulled the product from store shelves as a result of the backlash, and Von D reportedly wrote on Twitter: "At the end of the day, it's just a f---ing lipstick." She then deleted the tweet, according to HuffPost.
Two years later, the Kat Von D brand released yet another lipstick with a questionable name: "Underage Red." People argued that the name "suggests its wearers are either young girls trying to look sexy, or women of legal age who are trying to look like young girls," as Business Insider previously reported.
Von D stands by the name "Underage Red," and said in 2015 that she wouldn't apologize for it.
In a lengthy Facebook post shared on March 19, 2015, Von D said she could understand "why some have found reason to be offended" by the name "Underage Red," which she took credit for creating. Still, she wanted to "correct" people who "clearly misinterpreted the name itself, and the inspiration behind it."
"I clearly remember wearing a variation of this shade when I was 16 years old," Von D said on Facebook. "I also remember the feeling of wanting so badly to go see a specific concert at this age, and not being able to get into the venue because I was underage. Back then, I was already deeply in love with punk-rock music, and although in the eyes of many (including my parents), it may have been inappropriate for me to be wearing lipstick. But I did."
She went on to describe "Underage Red" as an "unapologetic" color that represents "feminine rebellion" — not a color that inspires "sexualization of any sort" or promotes "a destructive lifestyle." She then added: "So, NO. I refuse to sacrifice my integrity and creative freedom. NO. I will not be pulling 'Underage Red' from my collection. And NO. This is not an apology."
She announced that she'd make her cosmetics line vegan in 2016.
Though the Kat Von D brand was cruelty-free when it launched, it wasn't vegan. Von D decided in 2016 that she wanted to transition all existing products and remove those that couldn't be made with different ingredients, as Cosmetics Business reported at the time.
"I wasn't vegan when I first started the brand over a decade ago," Von D told Dazed Digital in 2019. "So, the more I became informed on veganism, the more I wanted to 'walk-the-walk.' I had no idea, at that time, that animal-derived ingredients were used in makeup."
"Once I learned more about what was going into formulas, I decided, along with my team's support, to transition all our non-vegan formulas to be 100% vegan," she continued. "Yes, it took time, money, and effort, but all worth it to me."
That same year, her friendship with Star came to an end - creating one of the biggest feuds in the online beauty community to date.
Star launched his beauty brand, Jeffree Star Cosmetics, in 2014. As Insider's Jacob Shamsian previously reported, Star originally promoted the line through his YouTube channel and with the help of Von D.
Two years later in 2016, Von D publicly ended her friendship with Star via Instagram, according to Teen Vogue. Star and Von D later argued on Twitter, leading Von D to film a YouTube video — that has since been deleted and reposted by fans — where she called out Star for bullying, using veganism to sell makeup, and not paying the artist who created his brand's logo, among other claims.
Star replied with a video of his own, in which he claimed Von D backed out of being an investor in Jeffree Star Cosmetics, and that he had paid the artist Von D mentioned in her video.
Von D spoke out against the idea of building a wall to prevent immigration from Mexico in 2017.
She shared a photo from her childhood on February 1, 2017, and wrote in her caption that she was born in Mexico. Von D also said the "idea of building a wall between the US and Mexico damages us all on so many levels."
"The ridiculous/obvious financial damage it would do to our country is insignificant when compared to the underlying message it sends that one race is below another," she continued. "I AM MEXICAN. I AM ARGENTINIAN. And I AM AMERICAN. We shouldn't forget we are a nation of immigrants."
Though the photo is still on her page, her caption was seemingly removed towards the end of October 2020. Representatives for Kat Von D did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment on the matter.
She married Rafael Reyes, also known as Leafar Seyer, in 2018.
The couple married legally on February 21, 2018, according to an Instagram post, and held a wedding ceremony months later on June 2, 2018.
The unconventional ceremony included everything from a red wedding dress to upside-down crosses. Von D gave fans a deeper look into the reception via a YouTube video, which shows their extravagant red venue, wedding guests dressed in all black, their heartfelt vows, and more.
Shortly after their wedding, Von D was met with backlash in response to an Instagram post where she said she wouldn't vaccinate her then-unborn child.
In a now-deleted Instagram post, Von D said she had been "bombarded with unsolicited advice" since becoming pregnant, as Insider previously reported. She went on to say that she'd have a natural, drug-free home birth with a midwife and doula, and that her child would be raised vegan and without vaccinations.
The backlash was swift from people who argued that vaccines are important in controlling diseases, and that it would be "irresponsible" for a celebrity to spread the opposite message. A boycott of the Kat Von D beauty brand began as a result.
In March 2020, Von D told the Los Angeles Times that despite her Instagram post, she's not an anti-vaxxer "at all."
"When it comes to the vaccine issue, I was six months pregnant at the time, and I was still trying to figure out my birthing plan to have my son," Von D told the publication. "And, at the time, I made a completely thoughtless post on my Instagram on whether or not I would vaccinate my son. And, because of it, people think I'm something that I'm not."
"But the truth is, I'm not an anti-vaxxer at all," she continued. "I just made a mistake, and I was completely uninformed. It was stupid, and I really shouldn't have opened my big mouth on the subject."
The vaccine backlash led to the recirculation of claims that Von D and her husband are anti-Semitic.
In 2008, TMZ reported that Kat Von D allegedly wrote an anti-Semitic autograph to her "Miami Ink" costar Ami James. There were no witnesses to the message being written, according to the publication, though fellow costar Chris Garver told TMZ that Von D handed him the photo. TLC — the network that hosted Von D's reality show — investigated the matter at the time, and Von D called the autograph a "forgery," according to TMZ.
At the time, TLC told TMZ that Von D "vehemently denied authoring the text" and that a "full investigation was immediately conducted." It determined that "insufficient evidence existed to conclude that she had" written the autograph, and "no disciplinary action was taken," as TLC told the publication in 2008. Representatives for the network did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
Her brand, on the other hand, released a pink lipstick called "Selektion" — a German word for selection used by Nazis — in 2015, and Von D compared animal slaughter to the Holocaust in a 2017 Facebook post, much to the dismay of many viewers.
The TMZ article and similar examples were widely recirculated in 2019, as some people argued that criticism against Von D's stance on vaccinations was hypocritical when the same was not shared in response to claims of her being anti-Semitic.
In response, Von D filmed a YouTube video in March of that year titled "I am NOT a nazi. I am NOT anti-vaxx."
She said in the 11-minute video that an unnamed "Miami Ink" costar felt "threatened" by her popularity and strong women while she was still on the show. Von D said that at the time, this costar sabotaged her tattoo equipment, sent her inappropriate photos, touched her without her consent, and later used the anti-Semitic autograph, which Von D said was forged, in the hopes of canceling her spin-off show.
As Remezcla previously reported, many viewers took issue with the video, as Von D did not mention key instances of alleged anti-Semitism — like when her former boyfriend dressed up as a Nazi while they were dating, and the swastika tattoo her husband has (which he says is not German or "political") on his neck.
The couple welcomed a child, named Leafar Von D Reyes, in late 2018.
"Meet our beautiful baby boy, Leafar Von D Reyes," Von D wrote in an Instagram post alongside a photo of her husband holding their baby next to a black carriage. "Thank you to all our beloved friends+family, fans+followers for your patience in us announcing his long-awaited arrival!"
"To be honest, my husband @prayers and I want to take the next 40 days [the 4th trimester] to focus on the baby and our amazing relationship transitioning into amazing parenthood - so, please excuse us if we're not on here as much for a little while," she continued. "Just know we love you all and thank you for all the words of love+support! 🖤"
Von D created a vegan shoe line in 2019.
She announced Von D Shoes in October 2019. The brand sells everything from sneakers to platform heels, all of which are made from 100% vegan materials.
The venture is one of the numerous reasons why Von D decided to sell her makeup brand at the start of 2020.
On January 16, 2020, Von D announced on Instagram that she sold her shares of Kat Von D to Kendo, a company she partnered with for 11 years. She said that while she wishes she could balance raising her child, running her shoe company, and making music with the beauty brand, she "just can't do everything at the maximum capacity."
"This was not an easy decision, but after careful consideration, I decided I wanted the makeup line to continue to thrive and grow, and I believe Kendo is primed to do just that," she wrote.
"In order to avoid any confusion with such a big change, Kat Von D Beauty will take a moment to rebrand itself, so you will start noticing the change from KatVonD Beauty to KvD Vegan Beauty," she added.
She later said influencers were partially to blame for her leaving the industry.
During an appearance on the "Second Life" podcast in January 2020, Von D said the beauty industry has become "a culture thing" filled with influencers who tell you what to buy and how to look to "be cool."
"It kind of throws me back to how I felt when I was a kid," she said. "I feel like I've stepped away from it a lot, partially on purpose, and the other part of it is, obviously, I just — after having the baby, and then I wrote an album years ago, and I was supposed to release it last summer, and then I got pregnant."
The sentiment echoes something she told Racked in 2017 ahead of a Kat Von D perfume event, which Von D did not invite influencers to.
"Influencers have a lot of followers," she told the publication. "I don't think half of those influencers are on-brand. We don't repost them. I don't really relate to them. I'd rather pick people with smaller follower counts that I actually admire and that are cool and that are different, you know?"
In early October 2020, Von D opened up about her experience being "kidnapped and locked up" at a boarding school.
The tattoo artist said in the clip that she was 15 when she was forcefully taken out of her bedroom by two "big dudes" and one "athletic-built woman."
She then added that she endured a "completely degrading" strip search, was forced to shave her head, and was led to believe that she had contracted HIV from her tattoo work while there.
As of October 2020, Von D was seemingly enjoying life at home and preparing to release music.
She was also documenting the process of creating her debut album, which she hopes her son will one day be proud of.
"I've made plenty of mistakes in my short lifetime, some more public than others, and I hope my son won't be too embarrassed, and instead learn from them," she wrote on Instagram.
"But now, as a sober, grown-ass woman, faithful wife, and dedicated mother, I just want Leafar to be able to look back at all that I've done and be proud," she continued. "He may not end up liking my music, my tattoos, and even think his mom dresses funny, but I hope he at least grows up to respect and love me for who I am."
She added: "Who knows, maybe when he gets older we can make music together, too. 🖤"
Von D covered half her arm with black ink to conceal tattoos that "meant nothing" to her in December of that year.
The artist said she originally got the tattoos when she used to drink, and added that she's now 13 years sober. She also said she previously tried to remove the tattoos with lasers, but that they were too dark and made of too many layers to do so properly.
"Now my arm looks so nice and clean, and the portrait of my Father stands out even more," Von D wrote on Instagram.
Before the end of 2020, she bought an Indiana home as an escape from California's high taxes, "terrible policies," and "tyrannical government."
She first posted a photo of herself standing in front of her new, historic home, and wrote: "It's official! Vevay, Indiana here we come!"
But after some people asked what the move would mean for her gothic California mansion, Von D shared an explanation via Instagram.
"Definitely not ever selling our beautiful home in LA," Von D wrote.
"But with all that has been taking place in California with terrible policies, tyrannical government overreach, ridiculous taxing, amongst so much more corruption, we just felt the need to plant roots in a small town where there is nature, where my son can be free to play, and where we can eventually retire one day," she continued.
Von D went on to add that she's not closing her tattoo shop or selling her home in California. Still, she said she and her family will "eventually be spending more time in beautiful Indiana" once she finishes remodeling the house.
Von D said a "stalker" broke into her home in mid-February, leading her to share her thoughts on gun safety.
The tattoo artist started her post by saying that Instagram users "harshly criticized" her and left "intense comments" after she previously shared videos of herself and her husband "taking a training course on gun safety."
In response to those critics, she asked: "How would you feel if a mentally ill stalker who was convinced that they were married to you, with prior felonies broke into your home after already having trespassed onto your property before?"
"Because that happened to us last night at our home in Indiana," Von D wrote. "And this is not the first time an incident like this has taken place. In fact, it's the third time I have ever had to file a restraining order."
She then asked her followers to not "shame" her family for learning how to use guns and "setting up safe storage" in their home to keep firearms. She also said she doesn't believe guns should be "taken lightly," or that people should be able to buy guns without proper training.
Still, she noted that she's "so tired of seeing so many celebrities virtue signal online about taking away our right to bear arms, while continuously taking on roles in movies that glorify gun violence for entertainment. Meanwhile, people are so quick to judge while listening to music that does the same."
Von D concluded her Instagram post by thanking the police force in Vevay, Indiana, and stating that she's "excited" to keep training.
Read the original article on Insider