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Francois Nars

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The Violet Files

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The founder and creative director of Nars Cosmetics on red lips, Hollywood, and living in the moment.

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francois nars & madonna


Twenty-two years ago, a collection of lipsticks, neatly packaged in matte black rubber bearing the letters N-A-R-S, arrived on the beauty counter at Barneys New York on Madison Avenue. The brainchild of makeup artist François Nars, the highly pigmented line debuted 12 shades, including current industry standbys such as Jungle Red and Scarlet Empress. It became an instant sensation, catapulting Nars’ already flourishing career to the next level.

Indeed, in the decade prior to his collection launch, the soft-spoken Frenchman (he hails from Tarbes in the South of France) had solidified his status as a fashion industry darling (Vogue editor Polly Mellen was one of his earliest champions), a backstage fixture adored by the supers (Cindy, Christy, Linda, Kate, Naomi), and the creator of Madonna’s beauty looks for her 1992 book, Sex. Nars the man has since achieved legend status, and so have his namesake cosmetics—to date, no beauty counter is complete without the ingenious one-shade-beautifies-all blush, Orgasm (two are sold every minute).

Recently, the press-shy artist temporarily relocated to Los Angeles from his private island in Tahiti to work on his seventh yet-to-be-titled book. (His sixth tome, a photo-biographical coffee-table volume, releases this fall.) While in Tinseltown, the makeup artist and photographer took a few minutes to share his musings on the subject that lured him westward—Hollywood.


A conversation with François Nars.

francois nars
  • 01

    VIOLET GREY: When did you first visit Los Angeles?

    François Nars: I don’t think I can recall. I have been here many, many times over the years—to do makeup, to shoot my latest book, to see friends.

  • 02

    VG: What were your first impressions of the town?

    FN: The lifestyle in LA is very laid back. The older you get, the more green you need in your life. You need to see blue sky; that’s very important to me. I’m a huge nature lover and I find LA to be so visually inspiring. I love the beautiful gardens, the flowers, the weather—in LA, everything grows.

  • 03

    VG: What do you think of when you hear “Hollywood”?

    FN: It makes me very nostalgic about cinema. I’ve always been inspired by the golden age of Hollywood. From the silent movies of the ‘20s through the ‘70s, it was such a magical and magnetic time. That magic in movie making doesn’t exist for me in the same way anymore.

  • 04

    VG: What do you daydream about?

    FN: I never think too much about the future. I work a few months in advance because I have to, but for the most part I take it day by day. I celebrate the past but I live in the moment.

  • 05

    VG: What makes someone iconic?

    FN: Someone who inspires you. You’re an icon because of your impact on others. And that may be different for everyone.

  • 06

    VG: With whom do you hope to collaborate with one day?

    FN: I’d love to shoot Cate Blanchett. I love her work.

  • 07

    VG: What does the color red mean to you?

    FN: I instantly think of a red lipstick—power, confidence, and audacity. It can transform a face.

  • 08

    VG: What was your favorite look from a film?

    FN: I love the looks from the ‘20s and ‘30s. That era of cinematography was like a bible for makeup artists—not just the makeup, but the lighting, set design, fashion. It was all there.

  • 09

    VG: What was the last thing that took your breath away?

    FN: Seeing Sarah Moon shoot the imagery for our upcoming collaboration. She is a true icon, and watching her was so inspiring. Her influence on my work as an artist and a photographer has been tremendous.

  • 10

    VG: How do you know when you have discovered a “face”?

    FN: I can’t really explain how I know, but it’s very instinctive. You have to see all facets of someone—what angles, what style, what you can sculpt them to be. I’m always looking for the supermodel, someone who inspires people—just like a photographer or a designer.

  • 11

    VG: A woman is never fully dressed without _________.

    FN: Personality. Beauty is strength, personality, and character—more than just a cute face.