Exclusive interview with Francois Nars by Stephen Kamifuji
François Nars looks to be in his early thirties, so it’s hard to believe that he was the makeup artist for the April 1984 issue of Vogue with Richard Avedon. His brilliant makeup career would lead to his eponymous global brand, NARS, in 1994, and later, to his success as a photographer. Somewhere in there NARS sold to Shiseido, and François bought Motu Tané, his own private French Polynesian island. We caught up with him on the eve of the release of his new book, Faery Lands: Tahiti. Here, looking dapper in a Saint Laurent suit and tie, and J.M. Weston shoes, he answers our Genlux two-word questionnaire. —Stephen Kamifuji
YOUR PASSION? My two passions are architecture and fashion photography. I’ve loved photography from when I was a kid, but I ended up being more focused on makeup. The important thing for me was doing great makeup for photo shoots with Richard Avedon and Steven Meisel and Irving Penn. Maybe subconsciously I was thinking, ‘one day I’ll take photos,’ but it was never an obsession.
WHY PHOTOGRAPHY? In those first years, when I started creating the NARS line, we needed to take photographs for our campaign, but there was no money. We were very poor. So I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to take a camera and start shooting.’ I’d learned a lot by being in the best school: working with the best photographers in the world. I’d learned how to have dialogue with the models, and how to light. And I had a sense of fashion and a good connection with the models, because when you do makeup you make them look beautiful—that’s the goal. It came pretty naturally. I jumped into it.
Favorite photographers? There’s such an incredible range of photographers that I like. May Ray, Brassaï, Guy Bourdin. And the ones I’ve worked with like Avedon, Penn, and Helmut Newton.
WHAT CAMERA? I use a Deardorff 8x10 because that’s the camera that Richard Avedon used. I was fascinated by it. I loved the fact that you’re standing next to the camera to direct the subject. There’s such an incredible sense of drama and strength to shoot like that. I shot my first book, XRAY, with it. My new book, Faery Lands: Tahiti, I also shot with the 8x10, but now I shoot mostly digital.
PRECIOUS MOMENT? Seeing my first Vogue cover. Oh my God, it was a dream! It was the biggest goal for me. It was 1985 and Richard Avedon shot Renée Simonsen for it. It took me only three months to get to Avedon’s studio. Not bad, right? It was Vogue editor Polly Mellen who brought me to meet Avedon.
PLAN B? I would have loved to get into architecture or home décor.
MEMORABLE ACHIEVEMENT? The first time I worked with Irving Penn. There were very few people who could work with him. It was so extremely restricted. It wasn’t that you wanted to work with Penn, it was more if you could work with him. It was a very small studio on Fifth Avenue.
MOST BEAUTIFUL? The face that inspired me the most was Linda Evangelista—because she was so perfectly beautiful. Her attitude was so good; she loved being made up and photographed. She almost
had a sexual relationship with the camera. It almost became overwhelming. It was fun working with her because she brought my makeup to life.
FAVORITE MODEL? I love this young girl, Toni Garrn. She reminds me a lot of the 70s supermodels—the Swedish or Danish girls. I also love Daria Strokous. Those are my two favorites.
CHANGING AESTHETIC? I never change. I’ve always been strongly attracted to the same face. Probably since I was eight years old, when I woke up to certain worlds like photography and fashion and aesthetics. Around that time I was attracted to the same type of women in the magazines—women of the 70s like Dayle Haddon and all the girls that Helmut Newton photographed. It’s the same for me today. I like strong character and beautiful faces, but a little bit odd. All the faces that Serge Lutens used for Guy Bourdin were also very dramatic—those were my two masters in makeup and photography.
SUCCESS SECRET? I was quite lucky. I worked hard my whole life, but I was discovered pretty quickly. I really only struggled two or three months. I met Olivier Echaudemaison [now the creative director of Guerlain], and immediately started doing fashion shows with him. He introduced me to all of the editors. It went so fast. I just wanted to do what I loved, and that was makeup and being in the fashion world.
NEXT SUBJECT? The ultimate actress that I’ve wanted to photograph is Cate Blanchett. Fortunately, she just said yes! I also just photographed Tilda Swinton.
WHAT’S NEXT? A new book of celebrity portraits. See? I don’t stop.