Kat Von D's Transformation Has Turned So Many Heads

Kat Von D is a woman of many talents. Not only is she a social media influencer and a famous tattoo artist, but she's a model, an entrepreneur, and a television personality. The makeup guru has made quite the name for herself in Hollywood, proving just about anyone can make it big if they have what it truly takes.

Von D's story began when she was born on March 8, 1982. The beloved beauty, whose real name is Katherine Von Drachenberg, was raised by her parents, René Drachenberg and Sylvia Galeano, in the small town of Montemorelos, Mexico until she was 6 years old. The family, which also includes Von D's siblings, Karoline Von Drachenberg and Michael Von Drachenberg, moved to Loma Linda in San Bernardino County, Calif. in 1988. As she wrote in a 2016 PopSugar article, the businesswoman is proud of her early upbringing in Mexico. "At the end of the day, where I come from doesn't define me," she penned, "but like any life experience, it's helped shape this beautifully charmed life of mine that I could never take for granted."

It's evident that Von D has completely evolved her looks and career since pursuing her goals, and the star said her "Latin background still plays a huge rol[e] in everything" she does. Keep scrolling to see Von D's transformation through the years. 

There were more horses than cars in Kat Von D's hometown

Scrolling through Kat Von D's Instagram feed feels like being trapped inside a Gothic fever dream most of the time, though she sometimes brightens things up with a throwback to her childhood. She's been living an enviable life in Los Angeles for well over a decade at this point, but she often finds herself pining for the simplicity of her past, as she explained in a 2015 Instagram post. "As much as I love life in this present time, I must admit: my happiest memories took place during my first 6 years alive," she wrote alongside the above snap of herself as a baby, safe in her mother's arms. "... My family was so close back then, the five of us, and things felt so real. So simple. We had nothing and everything."

Von D described her hometown as "a simple little village located on the outskirts of Monterrey" in her PopSugar piece, revealing that her parents moved there from Argentina not long after tying the knot. "My dad came from a long line of missionary doctors, and when it became evident that Montemorelos was in need of a hospital, that became his mission," she wrote. Montemorelos is a bustling Mexican city today, but it was still very much developing when Von D and her family arrived. "Let's put it this way, in this town, you were more likely to see a horse than you would a car," she added.

Kat Von D used to take baths in a plastic bucket

Kat Von D may have grown up as the daughter of a doctor, but that didn't equate to any kind of privilege or special treatment. "There's a huge difference between growing up with a missionary doctor in Mexico, versus a regular doctor in the US," Von D pointed out in her PopSugar article. "By no means did we live a life of 'luxury' in the conventional sense." The family home was a traditional one: it featured earthen flooring (she remembers the feeling of the "packed dirt" on her little bare feet fondly), it lacked electricity, and, for a number of years, it had no access to running water. 

"One of my favorite photos from our family album is one of me taking a bath in a plastic bucket," Von D said. The inked-up makeup guru shared the photo in question with her Instagram followers in 2015, revealing that it was actually taken in the hospital that her father had come to Montemorelos to build. The place "was still under much construction" at the time, Von D noted in the caption. "This was literally: bath time. The handful of memories from the time we lived there are few, but vivid." 

She's come an awfully long way since then. According to Variety, the late 19th-century Hollywood Hills mansion that Von D listed for $3.4 million in 2020 has more bathrooms than it does bedrooms.

Kat Von D didn't inherit her mother's looks

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of her makeup brand in 2018, Kat Von D brought together "10 muses of all backgrounds, ages and skin tones who represent the many faces of Kat Von D Beauty" for a new campaign. Her mother, Sylvia Galeano, was among them, taking her place alongside a host of designers and supermodels. 

The tattoo-clad TV star has always been in awe of her mom's natural beauty; she even lamented the fact that she doesn't look more like Galeano in a 2014 Instagram post. "Sadly, I inherited none of her beautiful Argentinian-gypsy features," she captioned a picture of her mother looking stunning in a white pleated skirt, taken when they were still in Mexico.

Von D is a proud Latina, which makes it all the more frustrating for the star when people don't recognize her heritage. Her father, René Drachenberg, is of German descent, and "most people assume that I am a white girl," Von D told the California Latino Legislative Caucus after she won the Latino Spirit Award for Achievement in Business and Entertainment in 2018. "I think being a Latina can transcend what skin color you are, and I think a lot of people forget that," she said. "We treat people differently base[d] on skin tone and a lot of that hasn't change over the years." Von D believes that, as someone who has "one foot in both worlds," she's perfectly positioned to bring people together.

Coming to America was a real adventure for Kat Von D

Kat Von D described her immigration day in detail during her 2016 PopSugar tell-all. The year was 1988, and "an underlying buzz of excitement" was in the air. "I was six years old, and the seven hour drive that it took to reach the Texas border felt like weeks," she recalled. "Even though I didn't fully understand what big changes were ahead, I felt it. I think we all did." Their chosen destination was a little-known place called Loma Linda, a small city in San Bernardino, Calif. The family settled on the outskirts of Loma Linda and, after a decade in the States, Von D became a US citizen.

The idea of others not being able to follow in her footsteps is clearly a cause of concern for the celeb, who passionately spoke out against then-President Donald Trump's stance on the Mexican border in a 2017 Instagram post. "The idea of building a wall between the US and Mexico damages us all on so many levels," Von D said in the now-deleted caption (via Mitú). "But 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." 

The famous tattooist made headlines later that year when she appeared to uninvite a contest winner from her Saint and Sinner perfume relaunch party after discovering a pro-Donald Trump post on the woman's Instagram feed.

Kat Von D didn't speak a word of English when she arrived in the States

In 2017, Kat Von D shared a childhood portrait of herself taken just before she and her family left Montemorelos for Loma Linda. In the caption (via Mitú), she revealed that she "didn't even know one word of English then," though she didn't stay unilingual for long. Von D and her siblings had no choice but to jump in at the deep end, learning new words as they went. "At some point, somewhere between church and school, my parents said we came back knowing how to speak English," she explained via her PopSugar piece. "But at home, we only really spoke our mixture of Mexican and Argentinian Spanish."  

Being the new kid in school is a daunting experience even when you know the language, but Von D wasn't fazed. Being a foreigner actually made her feel different "in a good way," she said, adding, "I felt special." Some feel as though her English is better than her Spanish nowadays (the Mexican star clapped back at online trolls who deemed her use of her native tongue below par in 2017), but Von D's Latinx heritage has always influenced her life choices, both personally and professionally. 

"The music I write, the way I draw, the Spanish shade names and themes for my makeup collection, and even why I choose to live in Los Angeles," she said. "Mexican culture is so prominent here in the city."

The star's harrowing boarding school experience left her with PTSD

By her own admission, Kat Von D was an "angry, defiant 15 year old," but nobody should have to go through what she experienced during a nightmare stint at the Provo Canyon School in Utah. Her transformation into the Goth icon she's known as today began when she turned into a teenager. She started dressing in black and styling her hair in ways that her religious parents did not approve of ("There's a Wendy O. Williams style mohawk under that Germs hat," she captioned the above throwback pic of her 15-year-old self smoking a cigarette), and they didn't know how to handle it. At their wits' end, they arranged for their daughter to be taken to a boarding school for troubled kids against her will.

In a chilling Instagram video entitled "What it's like to be kidnapped and locked up in an institution," Von D revealed that strangers came into her home in the middle of the night and took her to Utah. The experience left her with "major PTSD," she said. Von D decided to speak up after Paris Hilton revealed that she had been subjected to abuse at Provo Canyon. "I was sent to the same place, and I was 15 when I was sent, and I spent my 16th birthday in there," she said. "I was there for a total of 6 months, and they were definitely the most traumatic 6 months of my life."

Kat Von D's love for tattooing began at an early age

While living in California as a little girl, Kat Von D and her family became involved in the religion Seventh Day Adventist. It's not hard to see why, given that Loma Linda is a town known for its big population of observers. As she recalled in her PopSugar article, Von D said her family followed strict guidelines, which meant they "kept the Sabbath, went to church on Saturdays, followed the ten commandments, and didn't eat any pork or fish without scales."

However, Von D (pictured above in 2007) strayed from her parents' adapted way of life as she grew up, and soon enough, she started expressing herself through different hairstyles, art, and tattoos. "I first started tattooing when I was 14 years old, and I got into my first shop when I was 16," she told The Fix in October 2016. "I really felt like it was a luxury to be able to do something that you love."

When Von D's passion for tattooing became so overwhelming, she "stopped going to school." Though her parents were "supportive" of her artwork for as long as she "can remember," Von D noted her decision to drop off and pursue tattooing full time was "really scary" for her mom and dad. "I had a mohawk ... my dad's a doctor and they were missionaries for the church," she told PR.com in 2008. Fortunately, Von D's parents have embraced her talents as she became a star.

The tattoo artist made it big in showbiz

After years of sprucing up her tattoo abilities, Kat Von D was given the chance to make a name for herself on the TLC show Miami Ink. The star was cast alongside Ami James, Chris Nuñez, Yoji Harada, Chris Garver, Darren Brass, and Tim Hendricks in July 2005. At the time, Von D felt fortunate to pave the way for women in the tattoo business.

"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 told PR.com. "The network approved me and I flew down there." Throughout the two-year series, Von D appeared on 20 episodes, which is the highest out of the entire cast.

However, Von D eventually returned to her stomping grounds in California when LA Ink premiered in 2007. Though the TV star didn't mind the "different vibe" Miami offered, she knew in her heart belonged in LA. "I'm so used to living in Hollywood where it's totally not a big deal to be tattooed," she told the outlet. "To be separated from that and put in South Beach, I got a lot of weird looks in a bathing suit," she said with a laugh. Von D starred on LA Ink for four years until 2011. The show premiered seven seasons and followed along as Von D pursued her "dream of opening up her own tattoo shop," per IMDb

Kat Von D reinvented her career with a new business venture

Though Kat Von D was starring on LA Ink in the late 2000s, she was extremely busy with plenty of other projects. The tattooed bombshell (pictured here in 2009) was given the opportunity to reinvent her career when she launched her very own makeup line in 2008. After grabbing the attention of viewers with her one-of-a-kind style and undeniable artistic talent, Sephora offered her a deal, and from that moment on, Kat Von D Beauty was born (via Insider).

"I wasn't too sure how the public would respond. A lot of people, even though they do like me, they think I look different," she admitted to PR.com. "I tried to find a good balance between wearing something that's wearable in public and then if you want to get a little bit crazy you can." Kat Von D Beauty became a total hit, and throughout the early 2010s, she completely expanded her brand. In the beginning, Von D was just selling "eyeliners, lipsticks, eye shadows and brushes," she told PR.com, noting, "But, we're going to expand that to everything from glitter eyeliner to skin prep." Von D kept true to her word, and she even launched perfume and accessories.

When Von D became vegan, she transformed her beauty brand into a completely vegan-only line. But "from the beginning," she always "refused to test on animals," she told Vegan Food and Living in 2018.

She took some time to focus on her love life — which included becoming a mom

After nearly two decades of putting her career on the forefront, Kat V Don gave love a shot with Rafael Reyes. Though the entrepreneur dated her fair share of men over the years, including Steve-O, Deadmau5, Jesse James, and of course, her first husband, Oliver Peck, it appears true romance wasn't in the cards for Von D until she met Reyes, an author, and musician. 

Von D and Reyes were first linked in 2016 after they met on the set of a music video for one of his songs. The "From Dog to God" artist asked Von D to appear in the clip, and instantly, sparks flew, per Earn The Necklace. After two years of dating, the lovebirds tied the knot in an extremely private wedding in February 2018. Von D gushed over the ceremony on Instagram, writing (via Shemazing), "It was a beautiful sacred thing to get married alone, just the two of us."

The couple held an over-the-top second wedding several months later in June 2018, per Brides, and by November, the pair were parents when they welcomed their son, Leafer. For his first birthday in 2019, Von D marveled over the journey of motherhood. "I'm so lucky that I'm able to be there to witness each and every moment," she penned on Instagram. "Every day I look forward to seeing him grow into the sweet little boy is becoming."

Kat Von D does it all while juggling work, marriage, and motherhood

Kat Von D's dedication to her career has been unwavering throughout the decades, but that doesn't mean she doesn't make time for her family. Since marrying Rafael Reyes and settling down with their son, Von D has transformed from a total tattoo badass to a complete softie. On Instagram, the High Voltage Tattoo author loves giving fans glimpses inside her life as a mom. "I'd do anything for this little one," she captioned a photo of the mother-son duo holding hands in December 2020.

Notably, in 2020, Von D left her longtime brand Kat Von D Beauty after 12 years. The news came months after she launched her vegan shoe line, Von D Shoes, in November 2019. After reflecting on all the amazing milestones she accomplished in the last few years, Von D decided to take a step back from her eponymous line. "It has become clear to me that I just can't do everything at the maximum capacity," she said in an official press release at the time, noting she sold all of her shares to Kendo (via The Cut). "I decided I wanted the makeup line to continue to thrive and grow." 

Von D has no intentions of leaving the spotlight, though. In the press release, she dished how she's "busy prepping to release [her] long-awaited album," followed by "an international tour." It sounds like Von D has some surprises up her sleeve!