I walked into the Nars boutique on Melrose with visions of grandeur. Nars is iconic—I don't have to be the one to tell you that. So, when I had the opportunity to fly to L.A. to meet with the brilliant man behind it all, François Nars, I bordered on paralyzed with excitement.
The store was minimal and chic, just like their signature packaging, with grapefruit-scented candles lit and candid photographs of Mr. Nars and various legendary supermodels leaned up against the marble shelves. The anticipation continued to creep up alongside me like a shadow. I fidgeted with the folder that housed my questions, flipping through each page in order to keep my hands busy.
Finally, the big black curtain covering the back of the store opened, and I was beckoned to come in. I sat down and met his gaze, he smiled at me, and I swear his eyes had flecks of glitter. Warm, welcoming, and charming, the beginning of our chat felt more like catching up with an old friend than anything else. My nerves melted away, much like that signature scented candle wax burning in the corner.
1. Take inspiration from everywhere
As a makeup artist, photographer, and now, creative director of the brand, Mr. Nars wears many hats. But, according to him, his creative process has always been the same. "I think about women," he said simply. "What's going to work for them, what's going to make them feel beautiful. That's the formula. Of course, you want good application, good quality, that goes without saying—that's the chemistry part. I still get inspired by the same things, but always keep an open mind. It could be the latest exhibit, a sculpture, a painter, or it could be somebody on the street. I'm like a chameleon—I pick up everything from everywhere."
2. Get personal
"Each product has an identity, a very deliberate name," he said. "Instead of calling it 'pink,' 'orange,' or 'blue,' if you give it a name that refers to a movie, play, or a magical place, people start to develop a more special relationship with the product. It's that, I think, along with the packaging and quality of the product, that brings people back to us. There's thought behind it; it goes a little bit further, we're telling a story. It's more personal than just buying makeup in the supermarket and it's just 'blue.'"
He was right. Here I was chatting with a man who arguably had a hand in my upbringing. Nars products have taken space on my vanity since before I was allowed to buy makeup. First, Orgasm Blush ($30). It's undeniably iconic, and you'd still be hard-pressed to find a woman who didn't giggle about the name in middle school. But, that moniker gave way to conversations about female sexuality for every teenager who asked her mother to buy it for her. Suddenly, the word became less pornographic and more empowering.
Then, Nars Lipstick in Red Lizard ($28), Scarlett Empress ($28), and the Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Damned ($27) and Mysterious Red ($27). Every lipstick Nars created started with a story, and then we got to add stories of our own.
3. Stay fresh
"Hopefully there are many [Nars girls]—it's not just one type of woman who buys the products," Mr. Nars said when I asked who the quintessential Nars girl is. "What connects them together is the love for makeup, first and foremost. There's something very cool about the brand, but at the same time, it's classic. So, there's that edginess, and we do incorporate the latest trends a little bit, but we also keep our standards high. Today, there are so many brands—but will they be here in ten years? I don't know. I think with Nars, you constantly feel the newness come through, but with a solid foundation. It's quite difficult to do, to establish a brand for years to come instead of something that comes and goes. After 24 years, the brand still looks fresh."
4. Give yourself options
"Today is the age of freedom. The '40s, the '30s—there was a mold, practically one look. The '30s had greasy eyes, thin eyebrows, and a black lip. The '40s had Hollywood and glamour, with the false eyelashes and red mouth. Today, it's different. You can wear no makeup if you want, you can wear tons of makeup if you want, you can wear red lipstick if you want, you can do a natural look if you want. There's a multitude of different options today compared to other eras. Women less and less want to be told to do just one thing. They want options; they want what works for them."
5. Don't be a prisoner to makeup
"It's very different," Mr. Nars said when I asked the difference between his French and American customers. "The United States is such a huge country, and you have so many different types of women, so it's hard to generalize. The French are very laid-back about makeup. They never want to be a prisoner to it. When they see Instagram trends and heavy contouring, they get scared by that. It's good for a movie or on stage, but it's fantasy. They're more into transparent skin, maybe some red lipstick, maybe some mascara … they like reality more. Bring glamour to it, but in a very real way."
"I think it's when a woman feels good in her own skin, she feels good," Mr. Nars says of his own beauty philosophy. "In fashion and in life, you want to find your own style—what makes you feel good, what makes you look good. I think it gives you power and you can achieve better. Makeup is only good when it's an accessory to help you be yourself."
6. If you don't love what you do, then change what you do
"When I left the south of France to move to Paris, I was determined. I said I want that. I want to do this, and I'll do what it takes to get it. But, I knew really well what I wanted—I wanted to work with certain people, I wanted to do this and do that. And when I moved to New York, I wanted to work with certain photographers. Determination is who I am. And then, of course, unlimited love for what I do. You know, I'm still really passionate about photography, about making people look beautiful, and taking pictures of them. If you don't love what you do, then change what you do. Take a different job. I'm as passionate as I was when I was 12 years old. That's the key."
7. Use an ice cube to your advantage
“If you want to wear foundation, put an ice cube on your face after you've applied it. After you put the foundation and the powder, apply an ice cube to your face—it kind of retracts the pores. It's good for your skin, too. It gives you a little rosy glow from the cold, and the foundation looks more natural—it won't cake. Put light powder on top and your makeup stays very well. The foundation stays better."