Q+A: Theo Kogan
Q+A: Theo Kogan
The Lunachicks rock goddess is back in black, and red, and orange, and purple.
If you ask around the INKED offices, a handful of the women on our staff will tell you the reason that they first got tattooed was to be like Theo Kogan. When the seminal glam-punk act Lunachicks was at the height of their popularity, Kogan, the lead singer, had more ink than almost any other musician—guy or gal.
The tattooed It girl is more than a singer, though. She’s modeled for Calvin Klein, Burberry, and Kenneth Cole, and appeared in Zoolander, Rock Star, and Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead. She also fronted an electro band, Theo & the Skyscrapers, and hosted one of the most exorbitant regular parties in New York City.
Now the mom of a young daughter, Kogan has moved on from the reckless life of punk music and focused her creativity on a rock ’n’ roll line of makeup inspired by everything from Heart to Led Zeppelin—and the riot grrrls in between. Armour Beauty features shades as colorful as Kogan’s vibrant tattoos, and the line’s glosses have slicked the lips of Lady Gaga, Eva Mendes, Rachel Zoe, Karen O, and Fergie. Pucker up.
INKED: The Lunachicks live shows were epic. Did you put a lot of thought into the visual aspect of them?
Theo Kogan: I was actually an art student at [the School of Visual Arts] for a couple of years. I was really obsessed with horror makeup. I love horror movies, and there was a workshop with [special effects makeup artist] Tom Savini, so I signed up for that. I was stoked that we were going to make heads and blow them up. But then he got booked on a movie and had to cancel the workshop, and I was literally crying into my pillow. It has been so long and I’m still so sad. In our very first Lunachicks album I made a big bloody gash on my arm in one of the photos. At a CBGB show I made this big wound and I was so proud of it.
Was it odd to you that people thought your Lunachicks look was sexy?
It was awesome. It was flattering. There are lots of younger girls who will write to me on various social media and be like, “I can’t believe I missed seeing you guys.” And they look like they could be in the band now. I love it; I think it’s adorable.
What do you think about the way musicians look these days?
Once MTV came around I think things became more visual and looks became much more important. Look at Janis Joplin—she was not a pretty woman. There are some ugly fuckers in rock bands from the ’70s. KISS are not attractive people, so they wear makeup to make it so they look like rock gods. I think looks are much more important now than they were, but if the talent and showmanship are there you can make it.
Do you think anyone is carrying the Lunachicks flag today?
There has been a resurgence in glam rock, but I haven’t seen any new bands in quite a while because I don’t really go to shows anymore. The day that I found out I was pregnant was the last night of my regular party. It was New Year’s Eve at Don Hill’s. But now I have kind of matured.
And now Don Hill’s isn’t even around.
Yes, and CBGB is gone. I don’t want to be one of those people who says, “Eh, everything sucks now.” Everything is just different; it’s probably awesome for the kids who are in the scene.
Do you miss the scene and performing? Would you ever do it again?
I certainly never say never. I’m sure that I am going to want to get up on the stage again. The last time I was onstage was about a year ago. It was at MoMA PS1, an amazing performance at a museum. I had a great time, but I didn’t feel like I still want to do it all the time. When I am onstage the artistic energy is flowing through me, and now that channel is visual again. I have so much creativity going on visually, which is where I started as an art student. When you are doing makeup you are basically painting. With Armour Beauty, I am coming up with new colors and artistic vision.
Where did the name Armour Beauty come from?
Beauty gives you armor; makeup gives you armor from society. Also, our line is plant-based, with natural oils and butters that shield your lips and skin from the elements.
What prompted you to create the line?
I was doing a bunch of performing at the time and I was at a point where I wanted to do something different. Makeup has been a passion since I can remember. As a child I could remember going into the hair salon with my grandmother and loving the smell of the nail polish, chemicals, and hair dyes. Lip gloss just seemed like the obvious choice for me because there are many out there but none that I think are as good as Armour Beauty. Of the lip glosses I was using, I’d get a great color but it would dry out my lips or would only stay on for five minutes. I wanted to make the best-looking long-wearing, chic, beautiful, colored lip gloss line. All my girlfriends who wear next to no makeup still put on lip gloss every day. It’s the one beauty item that most women are going to use.
Was the transition from rocker to businessperson natural?
I didn’t think about that until recently. Being in a band is a business, but unfortunately when you are young, no one will teach you the business side and you have to learn as you go. I come from an immigrant background; [my family] came [to the United States] to open their own businesses. I have a whole line of businesspeople in my family, and now, I guess, I am like a businesswoman.
When you were performing did you do your own makeup?
Most of the time, yes. When I was in the Lunachicks we put on makeup to entertain each other, and as we went on we did the most fucked-up things because we thought it was hilarious. There was a show in Germany where we made these Dr. Seuss-esque unibrows and blacked out our teeth. It was insane—we would look at each other and be, like, dying.
Was that for effect with the crowd?
It was more self-entertainment than anything else. And also, for me, it killed time as we were waiting around between sound check and playing.
“TATTOOS ARE LIKE POTATO CHIPS: YOU CAN’T JUST HAVE ONE. YOU WANT MORE.” – Theo Kogan
Where did you pick up your makeup tricks?
I was taught by drag queens, really. And then I taught the rest to myself. Once Armour launched, I started doing work as a makeup artist. Most makeup lines are created by makeup artists, but I did the opposite, which is very me.
Wait … drag queens?
Frankly, dressing up in drag creates something that is eye-catching and that’s femininity to the max. It is kind of a caricature to the point where it isn’t feminine anymore. That’s what the Lunachicks did too. We took pop culture and the idea of femininity, like Barbie, and we threw it all in a blender, drank it, and then regurgitated it on everybody.
Was your look a costume or how you appeared every day?
I don’t wear tons of makeup all the time. After a show I would take it all off and nobody would know who I was, which I liked—it was actually kind of fun. But when you pour it on, it escalates. Being a Lunachick, being a club person—I go-go danced in the gay New York clubs in the ’90s—and then hosting my own party for six years I was always done up, and it was fun to outdo yourself each time.
When did it all start?
If you want to go way back, when I was a kid I wanted to be a clown. And then I did that in my own way, I guess.
How frequently do you put out new colors?
Pretty much at least one a season, sometimes more. The color I am working on now is from a painting that my daughter made. I saw the painting and thought the color she made was amazing. I cut it out and sent it to my lab. For me, [the inspiration] is the color of a dress that I see out that could absolutely kill me, or some old lady or young lady’s purple hair that inspires.
And you must be influenced by music, because most of the names of your lip glosses are song titles or references to acts.
I use musicians and songs because it is a rock ’n’ roll line. I name the shades whatever the color reminds me of, and music made me who I am. [Musicians] saved my life in many ways from being a comfort to getting my ya-yas out. If I were a religious person I would say that the line is from the church of rock ’n’ roll.
Have any of the acts you reference in your shade names reacted to the nod?
Only one so far. We have a color called Dreaming—after the Blondie song—that I gave to Debbie Harry. That was pretty exciting.
What does your daughter think of your job?
She loves lip gloss. I don’t let her wear it, but she always wants to put it on.
What happens when she wants to get tattoos and be in a band?
She is such a ham and makes up songs all the time, so it’s going to happen. I can’t see it not happening—but what can I say? Just that she should wait. I wanted to get tattooed when I was 15, but I couldn’t find someone who would tattoo me because of the laws. I probably would have had a whole roster of bands tattooed on me back then, so I am glad I had to wait a while.
Do you think the community has changed as much as the New York City rock scene since the time you started getting tattoos?
It has changed so much, and I’ve come a long way. But I still like tattoos and the lifestyle. When I started getting tattooed, all you would hear is, “How are you going to get a job?” But now everybody is tattooed, which is pretty awesome. And if it does still hurt your career, as time goes on it will be less and less, which is cool. But with more tattoos around, that also took away the badassness of tattoos as well.
Does that bother you?
No, I think it’s awesome. Everybody should be able to get tattoos if they appreciate the art. It used to be that in the summertime, when I was wearing a t-shirt, people would grab me and say, “Let me show you this dolphin on my back!” I have literally had people stop me on the street to show me the shittiest little thing on their shoulder. So that doesn’t happen anymore, and it is great that strangers don’t run up and touch me and ask me questions about them anymore, now that everybody has tattoos.
Where do you get tattooed these days?
I have gotten a lot of my tattoos at New York Adorned and also Saved Tattoo. My friend who is at Adorned, Virginia Elwood, has done a bunch of stuff on me, like my beautiful leg piece of flowers with skulls. She did a small friendship thing on my leg. After I got my feet done I couldn’t do anything else big for a while, so it has all been little friendship-y things lately, like my friend and I have a unicorn and another friend and I have a cupcake, another friend and I have our initials. It is pretty silly.
Do you have any musical friendship tattoos?
I have a Rancid and the Lunachicks tattoo heart from 1995—that was a tourtoo. Squid [Sidney Silver], one of the Lunachicks who is a tattooer, gave them to me, and Matt [Freeman] and Lars [Frederiksen] from Rancid both have these tattoos. It is really cute.
Another tattoo I got that is music-related happened at Don Hill’s years ago. They used to hold this party called Squeezebox, which was one of the first New York parties to have drag queens singing live. One night Green Day played at Madison Square Garden and somehow me and a bunch of drag queens ended up dancing on their stage. Then everybody went back to Don Hill’s— Green Day, Courtney Love, and a whole mess of some of the biggest people from that time. For some reason there were these Philly tattoo artists there tattooing downstairs. I already had a little tiny star on the bony knob of my left wrist and got another one on my right wrist. Something like 13, 20 also got that star, including Billie Joe [Armstrong] from Green Day. In the end I had to get it fixed because it was one of those silly, drunken tattoos. It was a crazy night.
So you planned your sleeves?
I never planned to be sleeved. Tattoos are like potato chips: You can’t just have one. You want more. I kept adding and adding, and when I was done with my sleeves I was totally checking myself out in the mirror saying, “This is awesome.”
Do you wish you would have gone about it differently, if you knew you were building up to a sleeve?
No, I do love what I have. I just wish that I had more arms.