What better way to celebrate 20 years of makeup mastery (and mystique) than with an intimate tête-à-tête with the man himself?
Written ByMAUREEN CHOI
“Beauty is something that surprises us at every moment. It’s like love, you can’t resist it,” declares Serge Lutens, makeup artist, hairstylist, perfumer, photographer, art director and filmmaker extraordinaire, who has been transforming the industry with his legendary imagery and creations over the last 50 years. “When we say, ‘Ah, what a surprise! I didn’t expect that’ it reinvents us. It moves us forward.” That visionary mindset is what has solidified Lutens as one of the most influential creatives, inspiring us to think about beauty as more than just products and instead as a gateway to new ideas and emotions. “With beauty, I’m always looking to produce an effect. When a woman enters a restaurant, I want for everyone to suddenly go silent, and not to be able to eat anything else afterward.”
Where he finds an endless source of inspiration? Marrakesh, a place that “always has an energy, a kindness, an overabundance of sights, colors, and smells that don’t exist anywhere else.” Lutens has called the Morrocan city home for the past 52 years, privately building an astounding 32,000-square foot architectural masterpiece that incorporates a dizzying labyrinth of stunning gardens, elegant sitting rooms, and even a perfume lab. “Fate sent me here in 1968, and I loved it because it was like going back in time.” On the occasion of his brand’s 20th anniversary, we sat down with Lutens to reflect back and get a peek into the future.
YOU’RE KNOWN FOR YOUR AESTHETIC AS MUCH AS YOU ARE FOR YOUR FORMULATIONS. HOW INTERCONNECTED IS DESIGN AND FUNCTIONALITY TO YOU?
It’s been over 50 years now that Ive been working with brands — 14 years with Christian Dior in the ՚70s, which was a makeup line that I invented because it didn’t exist before and Shiseido in the ՚80s. I wanted to do something minimal after those experiences, a beauty line that was the opposite of expansion. Just what was necessary. My collection is divided into two parts: One is about something you don’t see, but that changes everything, and the other is something that does better than nothing at all. I look for products that are very close to invisibility, but that change things dramatically.
YOU’VE MANAGED TO REINVENT MAKEUP STAPLES — THE PERFECT MASCARA, BUILDABLE FOUNDATIONS, A WEIGHTLESS LIPSTICK WITH A PRISM-TIPPED APPLICATOR. WHAT’S YOUR APPROACH WHEN IT COMES TO COLOR COSMETICS?
Color, for me, is about the effect. For example, I want silence to fall over the entire restaurant when a woman enters. I like surprises, shocks, something aggressive and audacious. Armed lips — that’s a desire to appear and to stand out. You need that to give yourself courage. But I don’t want to make makeup that you can see, so I come up with matte sorbets and powdery-mattes, which to me, are more elegant, ethereal, and refined. I look to create something that doesn't leave any trace behind, where you can feel free to move and talk.
The secret is that I hate everything, and that allows me to make something that I actually like. I don’t like big hairy eyes, for instance. I don’t think it’s beautiful because you lose the shape. So I did a mascara called Cils Cellophane, which is completely transparent that just defines your eyelashes a little bit. It’s like the North Pole of eyelashes — just a little icy touch. Beauty is something that should shine. It’s as simple as that.
Beauty is something that surprises us at every moment. It’s like love, you can’t resist it.
YOUR BEST MAKEUP TRICK?
I’m not very tricky. I do things, but they work in that moment or for that model. I used to add a little dash of color underneath the lips and a little on the earlobes. It is nothing at all, but it brings an audaciousness and an interest. Changing the color of eyeshadow, replacing gray and black with yellow, it is all improvisation.
Nuit de Cellophane calls upon your imagination. It’s a way of expressing with words what the perfume is. Cellophane is what was used to cover dresses in the 1930s in France. You would open it and hear this crinkly noise that made you feel a certain way. Sometimes I purposefully attack with my perfumes. There’s a refusal in creation every time. But everything’s in the name. Gris Clair, for example, means light gray, which says it all. The idea of gray and light is an association of adjectives that I really like.
WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT BRINGS YOU HAPPINESS?
Not the word, that’s for sure. The word happiness over-promises. There are things that put us in a good mood from time to time. I can’t do without sugar, and I love chocolate. I love Twix. I could eat 10 or 20 of them, but that’s a way of compensating. It’s not happiness; it’s delicious compensation.
WHAT DO YOU ENVISION FOR THE NEXT 20 YEARS?
It’s already great news that we’ve reached the 20-year mark. It’s a miracle. In 20 years, I will be 98, so I don’t know. Tomorrow doesn’t exist for me. Tomorrow is today. I’m working on projects, but there’s no prediction. There’s an image, but it changes as well in time. It’s a matter of going back and forth between this, that, and the other thing. I still maintain the hope that I will change myself. I don’t know whether that’s a form of utopianism, but I would like to change, too.