“L.A. Ink,” the reality TV show that chronicles the life of a bustling tattoo shop and its crew of mostly female inkers, has made Kat Von D one of the highest-profile tattoo artists in the country. But the 26-year-old shop owner, whose body is covered in “too many tattoos to count,” has also become an unlikely sex symbol -- a counterculture pinup to rival that other raven-haired Von-something, burlesque star Dita Von Teese.
Von D (short for her given name, Von Drachenberg) gets her fair share of Internet droolers, but she was also included in Maxim magazines’ Hot 100 List -- sandwiched in between some of the most Barbie-esque women on the planet.
“That was such a trip because all my life, it was, ‘Ew, the weird girl,’ ” she said. “Now I think people are becoming more and more open to diversity, which is one of the reasons I did the show.”
But half the reason to watch “L.A. Ink,” now finishing its second season on TLC, is to check out what Von D’s wearing. When it comes to fashion, she’s fearless -- donning glittery over-the-knee boots and a shredded T-shirt or a leather motorcycle vest with swinging bell-bottom pants as everyday garb.
Influenced by a grab bag of subcultures -- notably ‘80s heavy metal, punk, glitter-rock and rockabilly -- Von D said her look gets hung out to dry on a regular basis “because it’s different and it’s outside the box. But I’m not dressed like this to impress anybody. It’s not like I’m going to get my feelings hurt.”
We recently sat down with the artist at her La Brea Avenue shop, High Voltage, to dish on leather, leggings and why she’s not about to leave the house without a full face of makeup.
Is it fair to say your style is steeped in rock music?
Yeah, for sure. Music has influenced everything from my tattooing to how I talk to how I walk, I guess. I was classically trained in piano since I was 6. Then in my teens, my older sister introduced me to Metallica. It was all over. I had a mohawk soon after that. I like everything in the extreme. I’m 5'8, but I wear platforms because I like to be an Amazon. [She’s clad in 4-inch Miu Miu platforms and a T-shirt that reads “Argentina,” where her parents are from.]
Do you think tattoos, at this point, are socially accepted by most people?
I think the stigma will never go away. Outside of L.A., I’ve been followed around stores because they think I’m going to steal something. I feel like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman.” People are scared -- they figure, “Oh, you’re tattooed and you’re a girl, you’re either a hooker or a drug addict.” I think our show killed a lot of that. I’ve tattooed 82-year-olds, pastors and soccer moms. It’s pretty awesome.
You always have on great makeup -- and you launched your own line of cosmetics, Kat Von D for Sephora, this past summer. What’s your philosophy on makeup?
I never let people see me without makeup. And it’s not an insecurity thing. The perk of being a girl is being able to wear makeup and dress up. It’s another artistic outlet. And the 45 minutes it takes me to get ready . . . is very therapeutic for me. It’s hard to start my day without that. You can tell my mood by my makeup. When I’m depressed, it’s really dark. Then I’ll do super-dumb happy makeup. Like, I’ll do one eye electric blue and one smoky brown, and you won’t even figure it out until you’re talking to me -- then you’re like, “Whoa!”
Red lipstick is a trademark for you -- what’s your favorite red to wear?
Mine! I did four lipsticks for Sephora. And I was like, “I’m going to make the four best lipsticks ever.” I have every red ever made -- from Cover Girl and Mary Kay to Chanel and MAC and Makeup Forever. I went through all my favorites and said, “If this was mine I’d add more purple, use a different finish.”
Where do you like to shop for clothes in L.A.?
I shop everywhere from Maxfield to antique stores. I love Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood, and I love vintage. Golyester has the best selection of mint things and dead stock. I collect 1940s to 1970s platform shoes, and that’s where I got a few of my best ones. Lately, I’ve been in search of the best bell-bottoms. The ‘70s ones are really high-waisted, but I don’t have a [butt], so they just look weird.
Who made that leather zip-up black leather motorcycle vest you always wear?
Agatha Blois from New York. She makes everybody’s leather -- from J.Lo to Steven Tyler.
And what about those tight pants printed with the American flag?
I got a lot of [grief] for those. I have American flag leggings from Maniac from Japan -- they’re one of my favorite brands, and they only make a certain amount of pieces that sell at Maxfield. Then I have a bunch of ones that Agatha Blois made me. I love anything having to do with countries. I wear things that represent Argentina, Finland, Mexico [where she was born] or America -- those are my favorite places on the planet.
What’s your favorite handbag?
My favorite one is this American flag bag that Agatha made -- it has red, white and blue fringe that goes all the way down to the floor. It’s so tacky but awesome. It’s like a patriotic biker clown party -- it’s so funny.
I heard you’re writing a book.
Yeah, it’s an outline of my career as an artist since I was 6 years old called “High Voltage” [out next year from HarperCollins]. It’s not an autobiography -- I’m too young for that. There’s an autobiographical part, but then there’s a part about tattoo etiquette, and I did a tattoo directory of all my own tattoos. I got into a bikini -- not because I’m hot, but so you can see every tattoo. I label them and tell about where I was when I got it, what it is.
Who do you think has great style?
I think my boyfriend [Nikki Sixx from Mötley Crüe] has rad style. We dress really similarly [she laughs]. You know who also dresses really cool? Drea de Matteo. She’s vampy but still pretty cutting-edge.
You and Nikki do dress alike. Do people say you belong together?
At first people talked a lot about the age issue. He’s turning 50 soon. But if you know me, I think the hottest guys on the planet are guys like Gary Oldman and Sean Connery. I love gray hair. I love David Letterman.
Vesilind is a freelance writer.