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The Makeup Maniac: Life on Nars

July 10th 2014 / Anna Hunter

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Makeup legend François Nars made a rare appearance in London yesterday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his iconic brand, and The Makeup Maniac was granted an interview with the man himself. Find out more about the man who brought the ‘Orgasm’ blush to women everywhere

He owns an island (Motu Tané in French Polynesia), has collaborated with everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Madonna and is the founder and creative director of one of the most ‘audacious’ (his words), envelope-pushing beauty brands in the world. From The Multiple to the Laguna Bronzing Powder to the famed ‘Orgasm’ collection (approximately 135 Orgasm products are sold every hour), chances are you have a cult François Nars favourite stashed away in your handbag, or at least you’ll know someone who does.

But just how did this talented makeup artist, photographer and self-proclaimed perfectionist from the south of France come to hit women’s cosmetic ‘G Spot’? What inspires his beauty innovations and their cheeky names? And just why does he love lipstick so much? I met up with a few other beauty sleuths to find out…

François Nars on starting out...

“I think that it was probably the world of fashion that inspired me the most to begin with. At the age of 7 or 8 years old I would flick through my mother’s fashion magazines - she passed on the disease and I became a fashion addict! It was later that I got into makeup, through the fashion magazines”.

On launching his own brand...

“In terms of starting the brand it was perfect timing for me, I was extremely exposed and doing lots of editorial for the likes of American Vogue. My name was really out there, so I felt that it was great timing - ‘now or never!’. I was also a bit frustrated because when I was working I couldn’t find a brand that had all of the products I needed, from A to Z. I thought that it would be great to have a brand that had products that all really worked, from foundations to lipsticks to blushers. Like any other makeup artist I used to pick from different brands, a lipstick here, a foundation there and so on. I felt that if I was going to make a brand, it had to feel complete. I had to be satisfied with absolutely everything. I didn’t really plan it that far in advance - I started thinking about it a year before it launched. It was very relaxed, very laid back... I just thought 'Let’s do it!'"

On what inspires him…

“Travelling plays a big part. I also love watching movies, reading books, going to museums and to exhibitions. Ideas can be triggered by something as simple as seeing something or someone as I walk down the street or by more intellectual pursuits. I think that my collections are very eclectic for this reason - sometimes I don’t know where the idea has originally come from!

“I do try to mix influences from the past with more modern ideas. It’s very rare that I completely forget the past, because so many fabulous things have been created through the decades, so I keep that in mind but I love discovering new music, new films and new actresses. I keep an eye on new artists and also explore new places and cities as often as I can. Visiting countries that I’ve never been to excites me, as does going to Japan. Japan always seems to help me come up with great new ideas! In short I like to mix the past, the present and the future to come up with something interesting”.

On his memorable, often racy shade names…

“Movies are a big influence, and travel always helps me to come up with ideas. As for the more risqué names, I never think too hard about it. Makeup is a very sexy thing, putting on makeup is a very sexy thing to do! It makes women look beautiful and it’s a way to face the world, looking great while you do so. Certain sexual names sprang to mind as they’re so part of life and part of our enjoyment of it. There’s nothing wrong with sex and there’s certainly nothing wrong with having an orgasm! The word ‘orgasm’ conveys pleasure and being alive to me, it’s not just a sexual term. Also, Nars is always a bit edgy, as a brand we like to shock and push buttons. I didn’t really predict that the Orgasm blush would be such a success, but women really embraced it. It’s probably become the most famous blush in the world!

“At the time of creating ‘Orgasm’ I was also working a lot with Calvin Klein in New York, and Calvin was basing his collections around sexuality and obsession. I thought, why not transfer that to makeup? Why not make makeup sexy?”

On the mood-altering powers of lipstick…

“It’s such an easy accessory. It just takes one tube to look and feel sexy and glamorous. It gives you an instant aura of sophistication. It makes you feel chic. It’s so easy to carry, and even during the war, when women would give up everything, they still bought lipstick. It’s a global fixation, and right away it brings life to the face. I love lipstick in general, red of course, but any colour goes!”

On his muses and unusual campaign models…

“Typical, cute beauty isn’t my thing. I like strong features, I love faces with character. I’m very attracted to women with strong personalities. The muses that I pick for my campaign could be actresses or models, but it’s very rare that you’ll see me go for a perfect “Barbie doll” look.

“The Nars girl is edgy, with a timeless beauty. She’s not just a girl of the moment. For my new campaign I worked with Charlotte Rampling - she’s a quintessential beauty in my eyes. I go for the girl that you never get tired of watching."

On street style…

“These days you don’t see so many “makeup mistakes”. I think that the rise of beauty blogs and advice online has meant that women today are much more informed about choosing and applying makeup. I think women should be free to be and do whatever they want, but you definitely see less streaky, mismatched foundation! I love colour, and sometimes I love seeing “mistakes”, as “mistakes” often become ideas."

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On creating a makeup range with universal appeal…

“I design colours and collections for women in general, I don’t have a particular type of woman in mind. I meet so many brilliant women from all over the world, and that helps me to create colours and products that apply to all of them. I don’t put labels on certain colours or certain types of women. I go for the beautiful colour first, and the right woman will be attracted to that colour and pick it up. There’s something for everybody, it’s not discriminatory at all."

On his favourite Nars product…

“I love the Velvet Matte Lip Pencil, £18, it’s so rich and very easy to use. It’s really pigmented and not at all greasy. You can line the lips and fill them in - it’s so useful. I also have something new launching soon which is definitely going on my list of all-time favourites…” (watch this space)

On the one Nars product that every woman should own...

“I would say The Multiple, £30. It’s still such an iconic product and comes in so many shades that there’s definitely one to suit every woman. It’s a really easy product to have - it makes you look good in literally five minutes. You barely need a mirror, which is quite rare for makeup! You just apply it to the cheeks, dab it on the eyelid, put a touch on your lips and that’s it. For women with kids or that work (or both!), it’s a godsend in the morning. Do it in the taxi, in the car, at traffic lights (*not condoning this, Mr Nars). You look fresh and beautiful even if you just apply a little bit and you can build it up if you want to or have time."

On retiring from catwalk beauty... and returning again

“When you’ve done 3000 shows over the course of 20 years, there’s a point when you need a breather and to look back over what you’ve done. Then it came to a stage where I started to do different things, like taking photographs. I really threw myself into my new career as a photographer. It’s quite hard to handle all of that and do shows at the same time - they take up a lot of energy. I decided to repurpose that energy after I’d paid my due to the fashion shows. I felt then that it was time to turn the page. I came back with Marc (Jacobs - in 2009) because there was still a part of me that was missing fashion, I wasn’t quite over the catwalk! Doing fashion shows with just one great designer was a really nice thing to come back to, without it becoming too much."

On being a perfectionist…

“All of my life I’ve worked with very demanding people, from designers to photographers. I demand a lot of myself too, I’m never satisfied or totally happy with my work. It’s not an easy thing to deal with, but I think it’s great never to be completely happy with something, as it pushes you to do better. That’s the best advice I could give - always push yourself harder!”

On his career as a photographer…

“I started shooting when we launched the brand. We needed imagery for the first campaign and at that point we were very poor - it was extremely low budget! We couldn’t afford an expensive photographer so I decided to really jump into it. I was very attracted to photography and had worked with the best photographers in the world, from incredible talents such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, so I was already receiving the best schooling. I was so lucky. I began by taking pictures for the brand and then the idea came about to make a book of portraits. I haven’t stopped since then!"

On the future…

“I love to live in the moment - usually developments come about very naturally. I’m working on a new book and shooting a lot of celebrities for that. I’m always working on new collections, that keeps me pretty busy! Limited Edition collections have become a very important part of the Nars brand and I have a new collaboration coming out next year. I’m working with a living artist this time, as opposed to someone from the past, for instance Andy Warhol and Guy Bourdain. A fragrance is on the way too. We’re also opening a lot of freestanding stores; hopefully London will be next!.

“I also like to focus on improving the formula and texture of products, making them easier and easier to wear and apply. I’d never want anyone to be disappointed by the pigment or quality of a product that they’ve bought. I’m more concerned with this than by novelty or creating a ‘brand new thing’."

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