The Pro Files: Legendary Makeup Artist François Nars on Lipstick, Linda Evangelista and Life Behind the Lens
Even if you’re not a makeup lover, you’ve heard of Orgasm. We’re referring, of course, to the best-selling NARS blush shade that brings a flush of color to your cheeks based on its name alone. And if you are a beauty enthusiast, then it’s likely that you can rattle off a list of the brand’s other most popular products, many of which have also achieved cult-like status (we’re looking at you, Jungle Red).
But what even the biggest lipstick devotee might not be as familiar with is the story of François Nars, the legendary makeup artist and creator of NARS. That’s because Nars the man does his best work behind the scenes, whether it’s backstage at fashion week (where he’s been a fixture since the late ’90s), snapping photos for his own campaigns or most recently, penning a beautiful new photo-autobiography book, Francois Nars, which features defining moments and images from his career. We sat down with the multi-talented man himself and asked him about everything from how he names his products to what it’s like working with the world’s biggest supermodels and stars.
You’re known for having fun with your product names. How do you come up with them?
I never stop thinking about names of products. It’s a process that happens 24 hours a day. I keep an agenda next to me and in the middle of the night I will wake up and write [down] names. I always thought it was much more fun to give each product an identity. And by calling it a very specific name, a woman would fall in love with the product even more because it has more personality. I try to find intelligent names that really mean something. It can be a country, it can be a sensation, an emotion, movie, whatever, but something that would really click.
Do you have a favorite?
The first twelve lipsticks are always my favorites (see lineup below) because that’s when we launched the brand at Barney’s in 1994. I called them really specific names like Shanghai Express, Jungle Red and Heat Wave after the movies I love.
Every woman gets a kick out of Orgasm blush. I’m sure you’re sick of hearing that, but it’s true.
And that was the whole idea, to really makes the product so much more fun and more special.
You’ve created so many innovative products. Is there one that you’re most proud of?
The Multiple sticks are probably my all-time favorites. They’re like magic little sticks that you can use on your cheeks, lips, eyes in a very efficient, very fast way.
Many people don’t know that you’re also a very accomplished photographer. What do you love about taking pictures?
When I was a kid I loved photography and I loved makeup. I chose makeup over photography because there was something very sensual about makeup that I loved. But photography was always in the back of my mind that was always something that I was very connected with looking at magazines, enjoying photography and then taking pictures myself when I was a kid.
Are there similarities between doing someone’s makeup and taking their picture?
It’s almost the same gesture of love. When you photograph someone, you have to make them feel good and you know that they want to look good. It’s the same relationship that you have when you apply makeup on somebody. We’re almost like shrinks. Because when you do celebrities, they talk. You have to make them feel comfortable. You have to make them open up. Sometimes movie stars are a little tight because they don’t like being photographed. You have to make them laugh so they forget about the fact [that they’re having their picture taken].
Who’s your favorite celebrity to photograph?
Tilda Swinton because she’s an incredible movie star, incredible actress and she’s an incredible model. She has no boundaries, no limits. She will go to the moon if I tell her to. She will be naked in front of you in a second if you feel it’s great for the photograph, she will have black hair if it’s great, she will have blonde hair, she will have it down to here or she will shave her head off.
You also shoot tons of models. How is that different from working with an actor or actress?
A good model loves to be photographed. That is the main focus for them. I always feel more relaxed when I shoot models. Shooting models for me — it’s like my world, because I’ve worked with them all my life. I worked with movie stars all my life too, but it’s always a bit more intense.
Who was your first muse?
My mom. I was very lucky because she was extremely beautiful. She looked like a movie star. She was a housewife. A very glamorous housewife.
What about when you first started working as a makeup artist?
Of course all the models: Linda [Evangelista], Christy [Turlington], Naomi [Campbell], Cindy [Crawford]. We tried so many looks on them. Linda was the perfect candidate for that, she really enjoyed it. It was like a little girl in a candy store. She was so open to anything as long as she looked great. Working with those girls was really a good experience; I think I did some of my best work with Linda.
What’s your best beauty rule?
I always say that, regardless of what’s on the runway, regardless of what fashion tells you to do, as long as you look great, then go for it. But don’t pick out a trend that is not really you. Always pick up whatever makes you feel good, strong and powerful.
What’s the one shade of lipstick every woman should own?
One shade? That’s so hard. I would say Belle du Jour because I love Catherine Deneuve and that movie so much. And it’s such a great color that works on everyone.
Who or what inspires you now?
Beauty in many different forms. Beauty is still what drives me every day. If beauty was taken away, I think I would die in a way, so it’s really my driving force everyday.
This interview has been condensed and edited.