Backstage with Francois Nars

Backstage with Francois Nars

In November, 1994, make-up artist François Nars released NARS, a line of 12 creamy, colorful, cheekily-titled lipsticks. Since then, he’s given shine and wit in a tube to beauty-seeking teens, Naomi Campbell, and Madonna. To celebrate 15 years in fashion, Nars has published 15×15, a book of his photographs featuring 15 of NARS’s favorite stars and products. Each look is inspired by a NARS lipstick, pencil, blush, bronzer or eye shadow and showcases such andgroynous, extravagantly made-up muses as Olivier Theyskens and Daphne Guinness. But behind it all there’s still the make-up man from the South of France whose first pubicist was mama.

KATHARINE ZARRELLA: What is your earliest memory of makeup?

FRANÇOIS NARS: The “Caron” powder my grandmother used. It had a wonderful fragrance and an amazing finish. I used to love kissing her.

ZARRELLA: What was your “big break”?

NARS: I had no connections, and the fashion world was a closed elite.  So my mother made appointments for herself with three top Parisian makeup artists and spoke highly about me… she was my first publicist! She was so beautiful and elegant that they must have figured that her son had taste, and one offered me a job as an assistant.

ZARRELLA: How do you come up with your products bold names?

NARS: It’s more fun to have a name rather than a number. I think this gives our products a personality. I get the names from literature, movies, opera, traveling, nature, poetry, sometimes even the street. I keep a small book that I write in. I wake up in the middle of the night and jot down a name for a lipstick or an eyeshadow.

ZARRELLA: Why did you choose Marc Jacobs’ show to come out of runway retirement?

NARS: Marc and I have known each other since the very beginning of our careers and I love everything he creates. The makeup at his shows is typically subdued, like almost all the shows at New York Fashion week. This time, the theme of the show was New York by night in the 80’s—which we lived through together—and we could finally create a difference with something strong and bold, to invoke night-clubbing.

ZARRELLA: What were the criteria for choosing the 15 made-up stars inside the book?

NARS: Some of the participants I chose are my closest friends and working with people you care deeply about makes it fun and very rewarding.  The others are people I’ve admired for a long time and have been inspirations to me.  Most of all, however, all of them are true standouts in their field, and they are all beautiful, but for me it was important for the participants to be really excited about the project, and about the power of transformation, and makeup of course.”

ZARRELLA: Is there a portrait in 15×15 that’s especially near and dear to your heart?

NARS: Daphne Guinness, who inspires me to do so many things! She is the model for the next NARS campaign (Fall/Holiday 2010).  She is the NARS woman: creative, elegant and so high society; so very decadent with a British background. She is a living piece of art.