Nars attack: how the cult beauty brand has spent 20 years at the top

Rebecca Newman on the staying power of Nars and the man behind the brand

Over time, beauty trends swirl around. Star products have their moment (currently, Boots No7 Protect & Perfect Advanced Serum and Chanel Rouge Noir), then the beam moves on. However, certain perennials are an unchanging part of the make-up artist’s armoury: a MAC Strobe highlighter here, Shu Uemura eyelash curlers there, and a handful of items from the cult brand Nars.

You’ve probably encountered the ultimate hero, the Nars Multiple — a three-in-one highlighter stick that is wonderful on lips, eyes and cheeks. Almost certainly you’ll have used some of its descendants. If you haven’t tried the Nars Blush in Orgasm (two products in the Orgasm shade are sold globally every minute), the Illuminator cream in Copacabana (the perfect accessory for a tan), or the Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Dragon Girl (for the best, lasting matte red lip), then you have some treats in store.

But what of the man behind the brand? Born in the South of France in 1959, François Nars graduated from the Carita make-up school in Paris and moved to New York. Teaming up with photographer Steven Meisel, in the 1980s he worked closely with all the supers from Naomi to Linda to Cindy to Christy, helping cement their status. Disappointed by the products on offer, in 1994 he launched a line of 12 lipsticks. As well as his gently flattering products to contour the face, such as the blush, he is particularly famous for richly pigmented colour. His daring lip and eye palettes have made him a favourite for catwalks and campaigns — he worked closely with Karl Lagerfeld and Versace in the 1990s; today, Erdem and Christopher Kane, among others. Recently he has collaborated on capsule collections with Marc Jacobs and Thakoon Panichgul, and soon to come out is a range of rich gold and purple nail varnishes with Phillip Lim.

Living for part of the year on a private island in French Polynesia, he remains involved with every Nars product, despite selling the brand to Japanese cosmetics house Shiseido in 2000. To celebrate this year’s 20th anniversary, he is coming to London for a rare appearance at Selfridges next week. In an industry that’s often homogenous, Nars has always found his own path, choosing 68-year-old Charlotte Rampling as the face of his latest campaign, for example, or in 1992 shaving off the eyebrows of model Kristen McMenamy and ushering in the era of grunge. Twenty years on, he remains a rule-breaker.

François Nars will be at the Nars counter in Selfridges on 9 July at 5.30pm. The Complete Nars Experience (a More.More.MoreLip & Nail Set, a one-on-one with a make-up artist, a glass of champagne and a fast-track to meet Nars himself) costs £100, redeemable against purchase. Booking essential (020 7318 3135)

Original article published in ES Magazine, in July, 2014

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