Kat Von D became a household name after starring in the OG tattoo reality show Miami Ink, which helped normalize tattoos in the workplace, according to an article in HuffPost. Ever since, tattoo acceptance in professional settings has been on the rise, USA Today reports, as more and more people are becoming tattoo aficionados. Gone are the days of bikers and sailors being the only individuals with ink on their skin, as now people in all professions proudly bear their skin art for all the world to see.
Von D went on to star in her own show LA Ink and has become a cultural icon, with over 7 million followers on her Instagram page. That shows just how far tattooing has come in such a short amount of time.
But even though Von D is now worth $14 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth, her origin story begins in an exceedingly humble place. So, how did she get where she is today? Read on to witness the stunning transformation of Kat Von D.
Kat Von D’s story starts in Mexico
Katherine von Drachenberg came into the world on March 8, 1982, in the tiny town of Montemorelos, Mexico. The daughter of two Argentinian immigrants, she spent her early years with no running water or electricity, as her father was a doctor and a missionary who was working to open a hospital in the rural community. "One of my first memories as a kid was running around barefoot on the packed dirt we had for floors," Kat Von D penned in an article in PopSugar. "And, in fact, one of my favorite photos from our family album is one of me taking a bath in a plastic bucket! Let’s put it this way, in this town, you were more likely to see a horse than you would a car." Talk about a rustic beginning!
While that might sound difficult, Von D has a seriously fond affection for her childhood in Mexico. "The handful of memories from the time we lived there are few, but vivid," she wrote in a post on her Instagram page. "But I can confidently say they were some of the happiest times of my life." Childhood is magic, you guys.
Kat Von D came to America as a child
After her minimalist yet idyllic early years, Kat Von D, her parents, and her two siblings relocated from Mexico to San Bernadino County in Southern California when she was 6 years old. Specifically in 1988, they moved to Loma Linda, a town known for its Seventh Day Adventist population. "Many people [have] never heard of that religion — it’s basically Christianity, with a few Jewish traits," she recalled in an article in PopSugar. "We kept the Sabbath, went to church on Saturdays, followed the ten commandments, and didn’t eat any pork or fish without scales." Clearly, faith was central to their family.
Even though Von D only knew Spanish at the time, she became bilingual pretty quickly. "At some point, somewhere between church and school, my parents said we came back knowing how to speak English," she continued. "But at home, we only really spoke our mixture of Mexican and Argentinian Spanish." That’s classic Cali for you.
Von D also started playing piano that year, training to become a classical pianist, according to an article in The Fix. Thus her artistic training began!
Kat Von D’s tattoos worried her parents
As Kat Von D moved into adolescence from childhood while living in California, she began to deviate away from her parents’ way of life. In her early teens especially, she became interested in forms of self-expression that gave her parents quite the shock. "I think when I started getting tattoos it was really scary for them," she revealed in a 2008 interview with PR.com. "I had a Mohawk and I was fourteen when I stopped going to school." That would understandably give any parent cause for concern. School is important!
Fortunately, as it turned out for Von D, following her punk rock heart worked out for the best for her. "It was kind of scary for them, but a decade later, and a TV show later … [they] understand where I’m coming from," she continued. "Now they can actually come into the shop and feel comfortable." In fact, her mom reportedly stops by almost every day, which goes to show just how good Von D’s relationship with her parents has become.
Kat Von D started tattooing at age 14
When Kat Von D dropped out of school at 14, it wasn’t because she was directionless or overly troubled. Rather, she simply knew then what she wanted to do with her life. "I first started tattooing when I was 14 years old, and I got into my first shop when I was 16," she shared in an interview with The Fix. "I really felt like it was a luxury to be able to do something that you love." Hey, when you know, you know.
Now, decades later, Von D remains as committed to tattooing now as she was then. "I promised myself back then that I wouldn’t allow anything to get in the way of my progress, including destructive relationships and drama," she continued. "I have always put work before my social life." That’s proof that if you know exactly what you want and are willing to work hard for it, you can come out on top.
Miami Ink was the big break Kat Von D needed
When Miami Ink debuted on TLC, there weren’t any other reality shows focused on the business of tattooing on the air. And initially, all of the artists on the show were men, something TLC decided needed to change. Given that Kat Von D had worked for one of the show’s stars in Hollywood, opportunity came knocking in 2005. "Chris Garver called me and said, ‘Hey, we all want you to come down,’" she explained in an interview with PR.com. It was happening, y’all!
At the time, Von D was a bit of an outlier in the industry because of her gender, but this definitely worked in her favor. "There’s not that many tattoo artists that are girls and that are also cool and don’t get offended, and who are actually good and have been tattooing a long time," she continued. "The network approved me and I flew down there." She was on her way up!
Kat Von D’s makeup line turned her into a beauty icon
It didn’t take long for Miami Ink to become a hit show, launching the artists into stardom and spawning an entirely new genre of reality television, according to an article in A.V. Club. And with the show’s success came Kat Von D’s personal success, as she quickly became a beauty icon because of her unique style and artistic sensibilities, as reported by Los Angeles Magazine. Being herself really paid off!
Then in 2008, another big opportunity opened up for Von D, and she very smartly seized it: She was offered her own makeup line. "I was working on a line with Sephora for quite some time, for about six months, before it launched," she recalled in an interview with PR.com. "I love makeup and I’ve been wearing it since I was a kid." It was definitely a good fit!
Given that Von D had been something of a misfit for her entire life, the transition into beauty icon was unexpected for her, and she certainly never thought she’d be a celebrity. That’s just how things worked out.
Kat Von D returned to Cali
After a few successful seasons on Miami Ink, Kat Von D was ready for a change because of the workplace drama. "There was friction between myself and some of the other cast members," she admitted in an interview with PR.com." It didn’t end up pretty, and it was time for me to go home." You can take the girl out of Cali, but you can’t take the Cali out of the girl.
Additionally, Von D felt a bit like a fish out of water in Miami. "I’m so used to living in Hollywood where it’s totally not a big deal to be tattooed," she continued. "To be separated from that and put in South Beach, I got a lot of weird looks in a bathing suit." No wonder she flew home every weekend.
But that didn’t mean Von D was done with television — quite the opposite, in fact. That’s because TLC launched a spin-off show in 2007 called LA Ink, and our girl was its star. The show ran successfully for four years, concluding in 2011.
The decision that changed Kat Von D’s life
In 2007, Kat Von D made one of the most important decisions of her life: She got sober. And while that is hard work for anyone who decides to make the commitment, Von D couldn’t be happier about doing it. "Looking back at my wild drinking days, I really never imagined that I would be excited about being sober," she revealed in an interview with The Fix. "When you are on the other side of things, you have such a profoundly different perspective on life. On this side, you realize it’s something to be celebrated." Indeed it is, Kat, and we’re so happy for you!
Von D cites one very important motivation for her to make the leap to a dry lifestyle: her work. "One of the biggest reasons for me to stop drinking was to preserve and protect my art," she continued. "During my drinking years, I was acutely aware that I could be operating at a much more proficient level if I could just eliminate these distractions." Well, she did just that, and she hasn’t looked back. Congrats, girl!
Kat Von D held a tattoo world record… for a while
Arguably one of the most exciting and intense episodes of LA Ink aired on Feb. 19, 2008, when Kat Von D set out to break the world record for most tattoos given in 24 hours. In order to meet her goal, she would have to do a whopping 400 tattoos on 400 different people. And with only a week to plan for such an insanely ambitious event, things definitely got a little crazy.
After a nail-biting 24 hours, Von D managed to complete that 400th tattoo, despite exhaustion, pain in her hands and back, and some legitimate medical concerns — with only minutes to spare. And at the end of it, she was all smiles. "I’m so tired, but this is probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life," she gushed at the end of the episode.
Von D only held the record for less than a year, as Arizona-based tattoo artist Hollis Cantrell shattered it in November of 2008, according to the Phoenix New Times. And by shattered, we mean he doubled the amount that Von D did, adding no. 801 on his own thigh at 11:30 p.m. Pretty impressive stuff right there!
Kat Von D went vegan
If you’ve been a fan of Kat Von D for a long time, you know that she was once a meat eater. She even went so far as to tell the world that she loved steak in a TLC article back in the day.
But any appreciation of steak, or any meat for that matter, didn’t last long. In fact, Von D has taken it — as well as any other animal products — completely off of the menu for good. "I had been a vegetarian for many years, then about five or six years ago I went vegan after seeing the documentary Forks Over Knives and I’ve never looked back," she shared in a 2018 interview with Vegan Food & Living. "It was not that hard to do as I’d not been eating animals for so long and then eliminating all animal products was a natural step." Our girl just knew it was the right thing to do for herself.
She also puts her money where her mouth is, as Kat Von D’s makeup line — which includes eyeliner, foundation, lipstick, and more — has been 100 percent vegan and ethically tested for a long time now. That’s commitment.
At last, Kat Von D tied the knot
One of the inevitable outcomes of being a celebrity means that tons of people will be interested in your personal life. To that end, plenty of folks have been emotionally invested in Kat Von D’s many high-profile relationships, which have caused quite the stir over the years. From Nikki Sixx to Deadmau5 to Jesse James, Von D has quite the list of exes.
But it appears that Von D finally found the soulmate she was looking for in Prayers’ frontman Rafael Reyes, whom she married in a private ceremony in February 2018, according to a post on her Instagram page. "It was a beautiful sacred thing to get married alone, just the two of us, but [we] are looking forward to planning a ceremony for our close friends [and] family soon," she wrote in the caption. Aw!
Kat Von D decided to have children after all
Fun fact about Kat Von D: She knew from an early age that she didn’t want to be a mother. "The funny thing is that I’ve known since I was 7 years old that I was never going to have kids," she confessed in a 2012 interview with Dr. Drew Pinsky. "I always imagined myself as this worldly, [traveling] … lady." That’s certainly not off-brand for her.
But apparently, finding true love changed that trajectory, as in early December 2018, Von D gave birth to son Leafar Von D Reyes, according to a post on her Instagram page. "Thank you to all our beloved friends + family, fans + followers for your patience in us announcing his long awaited arrival," she gushed in the caption. Congratulations on your bundle of joy, you two!
According to another post on Von D’s Instagram page, the couple prepared to bring little Leafar into the world in a private home birth.
Kat Von D was hit with criticism
In June of 2018, Kat Von D and Rafael Reyes announced on Instagram in a now-deleted post (via BuzzFeed News) that they planned to raise their child vegan and without vaccinations. Unsurprisingly, this was met with significant backlash. And as if that wasn’t controversial enough, people also accused her of anti-Semitism, given her ties to her ex Jesse James and the fact that her husband has a Swastika tattooed on his neck — something he has defended as apolitical. Von D was deluged with comments from both angry and concerned fans, who were not at all pleased with the tattoo artist.
To that end, Von D published an 11-minute video on YouTube, defending herself and her family and stating clearly that she is neither an anti-vaxxer nor is she anti-Semitic. But according to Remezcla, a lot of people weren’t exactly pleased with her apology. Make of this what you will, guys.
One thing will always be the same for Kat Von D: tattooing
No matter what trials and tribulations Kat Von D faces, and regardless of any transformation she undergoes in the future, there’s one thing that’s been a constant throughout her life: tattooing. So, independent of any controversies, you know you can always find her behind a tattoo gun. After all, she’s been a tattoo artist for most of her life — and it’s what she truly knows best.
To that end, congrats are in order, as, according to a post on her Instagram page, her shop High Voltage Tattoo celebrated its 12th anniversary in April of 2019. That’s no small feat, especially given how competitive the tattoo industry has become. Congrats to all of the High Voltage artists!
And, of course, the workaholic that Von D is, she was still tattooing long into her pregnancy of her first child, showing just how committed she is to her art. So chances are she’s not putting the 13-needle shader down anytime soon.
Kat Von D did an about-face on the vaccine issue
Several years after Kat Von D came under fire for her comments regarding vaccination, she not only walked back her remarks, but also did a full 180. "At the time, I made a completely thoughtless post on my Instagram on whether or not I would vaccinate my son," she confessed in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. She added that people think that she’s an anti-vaxxer because of those comments, and that’s not a label she’s on board with.
But Von D — who announced she’s stepped away from the beauty business to focus on other ventures, selling her shares of her makeup brand to partner Kendo — really is sorry for her actions, and she wants the world to know that she’s not against science and medicine. "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."