Francois Nars, Beauty Industry King, Says Transparency is The Most Sexy

The world-renowned makeup artist and photographer recalls his early days working with the fashion’s most famous names, his stance on contouring, and the one product he would bring to a deserted island. “Who cares about concealers or makeup?” he says.

Francois Nars
Patrick Demarchelier

The name François Nars elicits starstruck-level status not just in the beauty world, but to anyone who wears makeup. His products are like candy, inciting furious tail wagging every time a new shipment arrives at the office, and his somewhat mysterious demeanor only fuels the legend. Truth be told, the man is charming, quick with a laugh and puts considerable thought into every question he is asked. See for yourself.

Since it’s New York Fashion Week: Men’s, let’s talk about men and lipstick. What is the best way to approach a man and tell him he’d look great in lipstick? Well, it depends on what kind of man. I’m not so sure your husband would be game, but Marc [Jacobs], on the other hand…

That photograph you took of him wearing red lipstick is downright iconic. With Marc, it’s very easy. Marc will get into anything as long as it makes a good picture, or a really crazy picture.

Did he pick the color or did you? I think I picked the color. We picked the whole idea together, the whole look. He was so open to it. We even did fake nails on him, but not too long. The great thing about Marc is he trusts me 100 percent, which is so nice and we have a lot of trust between each other, so he knows I wouldn’t make him look bad. It really became one of his favorite photographs ever. He has it in his office, a big blowup of it. It was actually inspired by a picture that I’d seen of China Machado that [Richard] Avedon had taken of her in the Sixties. She had her hands crossed like that and the red lips.

Tell me about the first time you worked with a supermodel. I can’t remember the first time, but I’ve worked with supermodels almost from day one. I met Iman and Jerry Hall and all those girls in the late Seventies right when I started working at the fashion shows in Paris as an assistant. In the Eighties, when I came to New York, I remember my first covers with [Richard] Avedon and Brooke Shields, and Isabella Rosselini, because at the time she used to work a lot with Avedon. Those were the supermodels of the Eighties. Then we created the girls like Linda, Cindy, Christy and all that. Then Kate. All my life, I was always surrounded by those fabulous girls. I adore models. Those models in the Seventies made me want to become a makeup artist because I was so in love with them. They’re one of the reasons I became a makeup artist and a photographer. Today, we don’t give them enough credit sometimes. Magazines put actresses on the covers, so the models have disappeared a little bit from covers and I think it’s a shame. There should be a balance. There should be some actresses, of course, but some models, too.

Francois Nars, Beauty Industry King, Says Transparency is The Most Sexy

Patrick Demarchelier

Styled by Jessica dos Remedios. Hair By Romina Manenti at Home Agency; Makeup by Lena Koro for Nars at; Manicure by Holly Falcone at Kate Ryan Inc.; model: Maria Broges at supreme management; digital technician: Hugo Arturi; photography assistants: Basil Fauchier, Scott Simpson; hair assistant: Katharine Cali.

Diego Uchitel

Art direction by Giovanni Bianco. Hair by Roque for Oribe Hair Care at Tracey Mattingly; makeup by Lena Koro for Nars. Model: Daria Strokous at Women Management.

François Nars

Styled by Patti Wilson. Oscar de la Renta cape and top; Jennifer Behr headpiece. Beauty note: Lips sizzle with Nars Larger Than Life Lip Gloss in Holly Woodlawn over Nars Cinematic Lipstick in Future Red.

François Nars

Nars Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer in Polynesia; Larger Than Life Lengthening Mascara; Cream Blush in Cactus Flower; Pure Matte Lipstick in Mascate.

Plamen Petkov

How do you make skin look so gorgeously naked? Or, nakedly gorgeous? Use the right product and don’t use too much of it. I know that’s a really simple statement, but the more you put on, the more you cover. So use a good product in a light formula. Start with little, then if you need a little bit more, use more. Transparency is more sexy than a full, pancake finish.

On that note, what do you think about this whole contour craze? I don’t know what to say about that, you know? It’s so far from my philosophy when it comes to everyday life. I made contours and all that, but in real life, you have to be very careful with that because you can go out in the street and look terrible. All those girls who show how to do contour, they do it quite well, but they’re like makeup artists. They’re in artificial light. Always be sure if you’re doing that for day makeup, you have to be artistic and very light. You can contour a little bit, of course. Some of the contours we did, I did light, light brown, and easier colors. The way you sometimes see it on those bloggers, it’s quite insane. Like Kevyn Aucoin, when he used to do it, but those were for heavy Tungsten light or the red carpet with flashbulbs. In real life, what woman wants to go through that in the morning when they go to work? Would you do that?

Of course not. You and millions of other women! Of course, when you see it, you think, “Oh my god, she looks like a movie star.” So then you start shading this and shading that and you think you look more glamorous. Of course, that’s why we do it at photo shoots and on models. On Linda Evangelista, I did that for years, but it’s not a realistic thing for the woman who goes to work every morning. I think it still belongs to a certain category of looks that are not necessarily very practical.

I also think it’s got to be terrible for skin, because there’s so much of it. Yeah, well, they do it different ways. You can do it with sticks and you can do it with powder. It’s just an unrealistic way to send that message to women that they have to look that good.

You nailed it. It’s very sad. You know, if you’re Kim Kardashian and you always have great makeup artists to do that for you, that’s one thing. I think Kim looks amazing because she always has help, but not everybody has that kind of team.

If you had to recommend only one thing a woman could take to a desert island with her, do you think concealer is more important or foundation? No. Who cares about concealers or makeup? No, great sun protection, that is all. You’re on a desert island by yourself or with somebody, you should take SPF to prevent skin cancer.

Ok, forget the desert island. Let’s say you had the world’s tiniest suitcase and you could only bring one makeup product? Oh, the [Nars] Multiple. A Multiple with an SPF, because with one stick you do an eye makeup, then cheek and lips. That’s it.

Ok, so long as your Multiples never go away. What’s it like for you when a shade gets discontinued? We get pretty attached to our favorites, and go into mourning when they disappear. We keep launching new products, so some shades just have to go. It’s always so hard to discontinue them. But I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t matter how much you talk about them or how much I talk about them, if women out there don’t like a shade, it’s gone. We’re only powerful to a certain extent.

Okay, time for the grooming questions! What is your first grooming/shaving memory? I trimmed my leg hair before going to the beach one summer when I was 16 or 17. I thought it looked better to be more groomed when wearing a bathing suit.

That’s kind of adorable. What was your first cologne experience? One of my first fragrances was Monsieur De Givenchy—I wore that a lot. I can’t remember my very first cologne but I’ve always been a fragrance freak. One of my friends used to have a perfumery, so I would go there and try them all on. Monsieur De Givenchy was the one that I really liked and there was another called Ho Hang by Balenciaga. Those were my two favorites. Is there one product you can’t live without? Retina-A cream.

What is in your medicine cabinet? I have a bottle of Advil, no matter what, and a bottle of Listerine.

If we pulled back your shower curtain, what would we find? First of all, I do not have a shower curtain! If you looked in my shower, however, you would find Hermès Eau de Mandarine Ambrée Shower Gel, Kiehl’s shampoo, Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Antibacterial Bar soap and Johnson’s Baby Oil. What’s currently in your dopp kit when you travel? NARSskin Aqua Gel Luminous Oil-Free Moisturizer (which is great for the plane), a bottle of Advil, a toothbrush, NARS All Day Luminous Powder Foundation and a bottle of fragrance – always! I currently carry L’Artisan Parfumeur Fou d’Absinthe in my travel bag. Oh, and I always carry NARS wipes!

Is there a woman’s fragrance that melts you? Is there a moment or memory attached? Shalimar by Guerlain, which was my grandmother’s fragrance, and Fidji by Guy Laroche. My mom wore that a lot.

Are there any women’s products—or beauty rituals—that you pity? Waxing, or any type of painful hair removal. Are there any women’s products you frequently borrow? Makeup! I often use mascara, powder and concealer.

What beauty look on women do you scratch your head at? Too many hair extensions and too many false eyelashes (or wearing too much makeup in general). Some women become a prisoner to trends. It’s important to express yourself, but makeup should fit who you are.

If you were given a Spa Day gift certificate, how would you spend it? I love Tomoko in Los Angeles! It’s a divine Japanese spa where they have amazing massages, food and tea. It’s one of the few places where I can feel completely relaxed and disconnected from the insanity of the outside world. It’s truly the best spa experience you can find.