Don’t follow trends!” is perhaps an odd thing to hear from a man looked upon by many for trend directions. But these are the 2000s, and it’s celebrity makeup artist Francois Nars’ stance that women now have far greater freedom to explore their own heart and style, and, in the process, break away from what everyone else is wearing on their face.
In the past decades, there was always a specific look, whether it’s strong eyeliner or smoky eyes, or patterned after some famous actress, Nars pointed out in a recent interview with journalists from the Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan at The Sukhothai in Bangkok, where he was visiting to unveil his holiday makeup collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
“There was a time when everybody wore red lipstick even if you didn’t like it,” he said. “Now there aren’t so many rules. There’s a whole rainbow of possibilities. Find what’s best for you. Don’t follow trends! Follow your own style!”
Nars said the most common mistake most women make is that they wear too much makeup. That, or they’re using the wrong product, or they’re not using the products right. A lot of women fail at the most basic, like not properly blending their foundation to match the shade of the neck.
“Go to a pro and learn how to put on makeup. Or read beauty magazines,” he advised. “There’s no more excuse to look bad. There’s a lot of information now. There’s the Internet.” Makeup, he added, should “express who you are, and enhance what you have. You don’t become a whole different person.”
Wear bright colors if it fits you, he said. If you’re not used to wearing brights, mix them with neutrals and tone them down, he added.
“Beauty, for me, is someone who has a personal style,” Nars said. “If you have a strong personality, beauty comes through. It’s not just the external, there are also one’s character and intelligence.”
The Nars brand has been one of the most successful cosmetics lines with a cult following among makeup lovers. But it’s the skincare line called NARSskin that the brand founder has been earnestly promoting, including a relaunch with new packaging recently.
“Skincare has always been at the back of my mind, even when I had no finances to create them,” Nars said. (Japanese beauty behemoth Shiseido acquired Nars in 2000.) “Makeup can’t go without good skincare. I don’t believe in covering bad skin with makeup. If the canvas is dirty, it won’t look great… With Shiseido we’re now able to use the latest in technology, especially with our skincare.”
Nars is a proponent of clean living. He spends half of his time on his private island in Bora Bora, Polynesia, called Motu Tane. He eats organic, works out, drinks plenty of water, and takes his vitamins. “New York is so polluted. Man or woman, when you live in a big city, you have to clean your skin very well. I pay less attention when I’m in the country.”
Nars foresees market-specific products in the near future, especially as the brand grows its reach in Asia. (Last week, Nars was launched in Singapore. In the Philippines, it’s exclusively available at Rustan’s and Nars counters.) It’s also opening boutiques in select markets. Nars CEO Louis Desazars, who attended the Bangkok soirée, said they’re also planning a Nars makeup school in New York.
The Andy Warhol project is just the beginning, said the brand’s founder and creative director. The brand is collaborating with the estate of another famous dead artist for 2013; Nars declined to name the artist.
The French-born Nars, 53, broke into the New York scene in 1984, leaving Paris at the prodding of an American Vogue editor. He was known to be a risk-taker: For a fashion show, he masked the models’ eyebrows with a concealer, but shaved off one’s brows entirely. The model, Kristen McMenamy, would become one of the muses of his campaigns. (Nars made a formidable trio with photographer Steven Meisel and hairstylist Oribe in the magazine scene of the ’80s, according to Vogue. It was Meisel who introduced Nars to Madonna, with whom he would later collaborate on her controversial book, “Sex.”)
Nars’ love for fashion and makeup was spurred early on by his mother and two elegant grandmothers whom he spoke so fondly of. She could’ve been a movie star, he said of his mother, a woman who wore chic designer clothes and made heads turn when she walked the streets. “Whenever she picked me up from school, all my friends said, ‘Your mother is so beautiful.’ That was flattering. She has aged, but there’s still this fresh look about her.”
In fact, it was Nars’ mother who got him his first gig as a makeup artist’s assistant. He would later attend the Carita makeup school in Paris.
In 1994, Nars launched his eponymous makeup line consisting of 12 lipsticks with cheeky names. Nars Cosmetics’ witty product names—Catfight, Promiscuous, Exhibit A, Beautiful Liar, Deep Throat, and the most famous, Orgasm, to name a few—have been a signature, and the handiwork of Nars himself. He said he keeps a small notebook to write down product name ideas, usually culled from his travels and his love for the cinema. “Women never forget a name,” he said. “It’s more personal than just calling something by a number or a specific color.”
Cash-strapped, Nars shot the first campaign for his brand, an accidental dalliance with photography that he would later parlay into a secondary career. Apart from his makeup books, Nars has also published tomes on his photography—with a couple more in the works.
“I find that photography and makeup have the same goal: to make that person look great. You choose the lighting, the best angle and expression,” he said. “In a very basic, simple way, my philosophy is to make women beautiful, even when I’m doing crazy makeup for shoots or the runway. I don’t just throw in something and forget about the woman.”
On people’s obsession with anti-aging, Nars said: “I come from a country where people are very afraid to age. It’s harder on women because it affects their career, especially in Hollywood. Very few people are like Meryl Streep who can still get work after a certain age… Plastic surgery is a good thing if used the right way.
“A lot go overboard and become obsessed, and they end up not looking right. It’s our society that’s always looking for youth. If you take good care of yourself, the way you live your life… Wrinkles are a beautiful thing, but society doesn’t allow that.”
This man who has worked on the most beautiful faces on the runways and magazine covers has a simple advice for women to enhance their natural beauty. “Fall in love!” he said. “A woman in love is always more beautiful.”
Then, he added in jest, “If you’re not in love, there’s always Nars.”