KVD Vegan Beauty, the makeup brand formerly known as Kat Von D Beauty, has gained a significant new distribution partner following its re-brand and separation from controversial brand founder Katherine von Drachenberg.
The Kendo-owned brand on Aug. 23 is entering all Ulta Beauty doors in the U.S. — more than 1,200 stores — and ultabeauty.com. Ulta will carry the brand’s full assortment, including popular products such as the Tattoo Liner and Everlasting Liquid Lipsticks. The brand will continue to be sold at Sephora, its sole retail partner since it launched in 2008.
KVD Vegan Beauty was until this year known as Kat Von D Beauty — the brand was the namesake of founder Katherine von Drachenberg, a tattoo-artist-turned-reality star. The brand was developed by Kendo and launched at Sephora — both are owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton — as a lipstick line after the retailer received requests for the makeup von Drachenberg wore on her reality show “L.A. Ink,” and has since expanded to 250 products sold across 36 countries.
In January, Kendo revealed that it had severed ties with von Drachenberg, who sold all of her existing shares back to the company. While the makeup line is said to have been a commercial success, von Drachenberg’s personal controversies — mainly accusations of being an anti-Semite and promoting anti-vaxxing — were often associated with it.
Evidence of von Drachenberg’s alleged anti-Semitism has circulated on the Internet for years, at times directly involving the makeup brand. In 2016, the company released a lipstick called “Selektion” — a term used by the Nazis during the Holocaust to mean the selection of inmates for execution or slave labor at concentration camps. The lipstick is said to have been renamed, but photos of its first release still appear in online image searches and Reddit boards.
Von Drachenberg has also garnered wide criticism for promoting anti-vaxxing. In a now-deleted post on her personal Instagram in 2018, von Drachenberg — who was pregnant at the time — wrote that she planned to raise her child without vaccinations. She later retracted her statements, telling media outlets she was uninformed.
By 2019, von Drachenberg’s past behavior and comments — both confirmed and alleged — continued to haunt her and her brand, fueled partially by industry gossip accounts on social media. Von Drachenberg last year released a YouTube video responding to her longtime critics, insisting she was “not a Nazi” and “not an anti-vaxxer.” In the video, von Drachenberg claimed that a signed photo of her — said to have been a “gift” from her to a former producer that reads “Burn in Hell Jewbag. xoxo Kat Von D” alongside a burning Star of David and swastika was actually a fake meant designed to associate her with anti-Semitism.
Still, the damage was done, and von Drachenberg and Kendo parted ways in 2019, in what was said to be by mutual agreement. Von Drachenberg said she planned to focus on her new baby and upcoming vegan shoe line. “I decided I wanted the makeup line to continue to thrive and grow, and Kendo is primed to do just that,” von Drachenberg said at the time.
Along with von Drachenberg’s departure, Kendo said it would continue to sell the brand under the name KVD Vegan Beauty. It would keep the star products and formulations the brand was known for, as well its cruelty-free and vegan ethos — von Drachenberg was an outspoken animal rights activist before cruelty-free and vegan were beauty trends.
What happens next for KVD Vegan Beauty could serve as a playbook for other brands looking to cut ties with controversial figures they once relied on to sell product. In the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and the swell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, consumers have become increasingly insistent that brands denounce racism and inequality, and are quick to call out those that associate with influencers and celebrities seen as problematic. Makeup brand Morphe recently said it had ended its business relationship with Jeffree Star, a YouTuber with a history of racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic hate speech.
Kristin Walcott, president of Kendo Brands, said after eight months on the market, KVD Vegan Beauty has been able to stand on its own without von Drachenberg, fueled in part by its popular hero products.
“There were some challenging stories unrelated to the roots of the brand,” said Walcott, who declined to speak further about von Drachenberg. “We’ve [been] able to move past those stories and focus on product and it’s worked — we’re really excited about how well this brand has performed.”
The brand fills a niche, said Walcott, for consumers who want long-lasting, high-performance makeup that is also certified cruelty-free. “We believe the products have stood on their own for years — some of the franchises are potentially better known than the brand,” Walcott said. “When you think about Tattoo Liner — it’s an iconic and best-selling product that’s over 10 years old. It’s really about product performance and innovation.”
While the global sales of prestige makeup have plunged amid the coronavirus pandemic, Walcott noted that the brand, still sold through Sephora and its own web site, has been able to avoid the steep sales declines others have faced, partially due to its high-performance makeup that the company is now marketing to mask-wearers.
“How to get a perfect cat-eye or a transfer-proof lip — those types of performance stories are extremely relevant right now,” she added.
Other than a new name and packaging and the removal of its association with von Drachenberg, KVD Vegan Beauty is essentially the same brand it was. The same people work on it, and the assortment has remained the same.
The move into Ulta is an attempt to garner a new — and hopefully younger — customer base.
“There are consumers [there] who are not shopping other retailers,” Walcott said.