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François Nars, what has become of your childhood dreams?

November 3 2017

François Nars

François Nars has worked with the greatest fashion photographers and the biggest stars. He invented the no-make up before the time when he dared to make a skin of a simple moisturizer to give it light. By launching his first range of lipsticks in 1996 he did not suspect success to come. Meet. - Isabelle Cerboneschi, New York.


Nars is sitting in the Ritz-Carlton lounge on Central Park, New York. When he gets up, approaches with a smile and extends his hand, I wonder if his internal clock would not have broken the day of his 35 years? Working in beauty is a wonderful elixir. It will be necessary to think of it in a next life ...

The makeup artist and photographer François Nars was born in the South of France in 1959, surrounded by fairies, pardon, elegant women - his mother Claudette and his two grandmothers Léa and Ginette - to whom he dedicates the work which is it devoted. He grew up flipping through the images of Vogue, watching black and white films on which the sublime faces of Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich stood out. Nourished by this aesthetic, he was nevertheless the first to dare to make a non-make-up for a series of fashion photos. Just a little moisturizer to awaken the beauty of the model. Of nude before the hour, decades before the time.

After learning makeup at Carita sisters school in Paris and working on a few parades, François Nars flew to New York in 1984 at the request of Polly Mellen, famous fashion designer for Harper's Bazaar then Vogue. He arrived in Manhattan in the midst of these flamboyant years of fashion, as a group of emerging talents - designers, fashion designers, models, photographers - were defining a new aesthetic. François Nars quickly becomes the make-up star, the one everyone wants on parades, advertising campaigns or fashion shoots. He works with the greatest photographers: Paolo Roversi, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Patrick Demarchelier, Bruce Weber and Steven Meisel, to name but a few. It is to him that the stars - Isabella Rossellini, Anjelica Houston, Sharon Stone and Madonna, in the lead - entrust their faces. Until the day he decides to stop this life and create his own business.

In 1994, he launches his first line of twelve lipsticks at Barneys in New York. Not a girl's make-up erased, no: he wants his products to know how to reveal a personality, that women fall literally in love with them. He is the first to invent extravagant names for his colors: Sex Machine, Bad Education (Bad education) or Deap Throat (Deep Throat). One could write a porn book with the name of its colors. He wanted powerfully sexy names that women would remember. Do we remember a simple number written in tiny letters under a lipstick? On the other hand, we do not forget a blush called Never say never (Never say never) His best seller? the blush orgasm, a peach-pink gold and iridescent. François Nars is probably the only man on earth who can boast of having generated millions of dollars thanks to an orgasm, even if it is a pigment.

The four letters of his name take up all the space on the black packaging of his make-up lines designed by designer Fabien Baron. In 2000, François Nars sold his brand to Shiseido but remained its artistic director.

IC: What was your biggest childhood dream?
François Nars: I think it was doing what I wanted, that is, working in fashion. I had to have 12 when I started thinking about it. As a child, I did not really think of a job. My dream was to be happy every day, have fun and enjoy childhood. I think I was very conscious of the fact that being a child, finally, it was still a very good thing: I had a lot of fun, I had a lot of friends, we were always ready to do stupid things.

Do you feel that you have fulfilled that dream?
Oh yes, totally. I realized many of my childhood and teen dreams. During adolescence, we begin to realize a little what life is, what we would like to do later. I realized, in particular, my dream of becoming a makeup artist, a photographer and working in fashion with all the people I admired in the magazines I flipped through when I was young. I have been very lucky.

Already a teenager, did you want to become a photographer and makeup artist?
Yes, very early, around the age of 12 years, I knew exactly what I wanted to do later. I had this passion for fashion, for photography and for makeup. I was very early.

How was this passion born?
We do not really know how things are born ...

I think we can look for the explanation in my family. My mother, my grandmothers were very elegant women, very beautiful. Maybe this was the first wake up call as they say in English: the awakening to fashion, beauty, elegance. And then, my education was done through the movies I watched, the old silent movies of the 30 years with Garbo, Dietrich. I also read a lot of magazines that my mother bought, including the Vogue French: in the 70 years, it was THE best magazine in the world, the most sophisticated, the most glamorous! I think my passion was born from a little bit of that.

I saw in the book dedicated to you an image of Greta Garbo. You talk about his films. How did this imagery later influence how you make up or your color choices?
I think it was the extreme sophistication, the extreme perfection of cinema 20-30 years that touched me and especially awakened to elegance, glamor, extraordinary perfectionism. It was these extraordinary directors like Josef von Sternberg who redrawn Marlene Dietrich's face with light, all those men who created the myths of those years, and who continue to influence me today. . Garbo and Dietrich are always with me, all the time, when I work, whatever happens.

Is makeup a staging of oneself?
Yes, makeup is a staging, a fantasy. We are approaching a world where beauty is exacerbated. But makeup is not necessary, it is an accessory.

What was your favorite toy?
I had a lot of toys but not too spoiled. Until the middle of the 60 years, there was not the abundance that we find today. My father bought me for Christmas a machine to watch movies. They were projected on a wall. At the time, there was no video of course, so they were Walt Disney mini-movies, movie pieces because you could not buy the whole movie. I loved this little machine.

Did you keep it?
No Alas. I should have, but with the arrival of videos, CDs and DVDs, she left.

Did you dream in colour or in black and white?
I do not remember, honestly, but I think it was in color, even though I watched a lot of black and white movies. When I dreamed of Marlene Dietrich, maybe I dreamed in black and white ...

Were you afraid of the dark?
Oh, like any child, yes, maybe. I liked that the door of my room was ajar when I went to sleep.

What was your favorite book?
I loved the fables of La Fontaine. I read them often. My grandmother also read them to me. It's still one of the books I love, I have the whole collection of La Fontaine's fables, books old ones that my grandmother gave me.

Have you read them since?
Yes, from time to time, I sometimes flip through them. They are so topical!

If your childhood was a perfume, what would it be?
I think it would be the two perfumes of my grandmothers, that is to say Shalimar of Guerlain for one, and Detchema of Revillon for the other. These are the smells that are in me. The perfume of my mother too, but especially that of my grandmothers. They were more ... Let's say there is a natural warmth among grandparents and their scents remain etched in you forever. Sometimes I feel Shalimar on someone and it reminds me right away of my grandmother.

So it's a scent of love?
Ah yes! It's amazing how a scent can wake up the past and almost a presence. A smell is fabulous, it's even disturbing sometimes.

And if your childhood had a taste, what would it be?
The taste of my grandmother's chocolate mousse, which she did extraordinarily well. I think I have never tasted a chocolate mousse as successful as hers. We tried to do it again, several times, it's close, but there is still a consistency, a perfume that are missing, whatever happens.

Your mother helped you define your vision of beauty. What were the most important moments you had with her child?
When I walked in the street with my mother, she was so elegant, so beautiful that she attracted all the attention, whatever she does. It was not just the way she dressed, but her beauty, a combination of things. And when she came to pick me up at school, the teachers were in love. I was very proud of her. It's a very sweet memory.

When did you start your job, which other women inspired you?
Being French, Catherine Deneuve has always been a muse. I grew up watching Catherine's films, which I met well after. Charlotte Rampling, too, and some Italian actresses like Claudia Cardinale, Sophia Loren, Silvana Mangano. This small group of women influenced me a lot because of their physics, their personality, their charisma, very powerful.

During the summer holidays, you went to see the sea?
I spent most of my holidays in Biarritz. My parents and my grandparents rented a house there and we stayed there for two months of summer. I learned to love the ocean, the sea, the spray, the waves. Those of Biarritz are extremely powerful. My mother held me in her arms and we stayed in the waves. Some days, they were very impressive. I was not afraid of it. It was my vacation until the age of 15-16 years ago.

Did you climb trees?
No, I was not a climber, but I was swimming a lot. I could stay for hours and hours on the beach, the sand.

Do you remember the child you were?
I was a very beloved child, very much cherished by my parents and my grandparents, who adored me. I loved staying with my family. I did not like school very much, I preferred to be with my friends, the family. So I was a very serene child except for school days. Back to school, especially! It was always a nightmare.

Does this child still accompany you?
Oh, yes, absolutely. All my childhood, all my memories accompany me. It seems to me that for many things I have remained very childish. I think we age less quickly when we keep a childish side, without that becoming ridiculous of course. I always love to have fun, I love to laugh. I like carelessness - although it's something that you lose when you become an adult - the carelessness of childhood that I sometimes want to find again.

• To read: François Nars, Rizzoli International Publication INC, 201

A version of this interview has been published in the 17 September 2016 Special Edition