The story of François Nars’ success is rife with risk-taking. In 1984, the then-unknown makeup artist picked up and moved to New York from his native France; in 1992, Nars made headlines by spontaneously shaving off a model’s eyebrows before an Anna Sui fashion show; and in 1999, he took an abrupt 10-year hiatus from the runway.
But according to Nars, these gambles paled in comparison to the launch of his eponymous makeup line in 1994. “Putting my name on a product was the biggest risk of my life. I didn’t know if it would fail or not,” he says from within a suite at Chicago’s Public Hotel, where he made a stop to promote his two new projects: A just-launched Summer 2013 collection and a limited-edition collection of punchy nail polishes ($29) and cubic-print blushes ($41) that he created with shoe designer Pierre Hardy. “I could have lost everything. But I was lucky — the risk paid off.”
In fact, NARS has been an unequivocal industry success. Almost immediately, his collection became the top-selling color line at Barneys New York, and nearly 20 years later, the upscale brand — which Nars says he created to “fill a need, not just a gap” in the fashion and makeup industries — is revered by designers like Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang and by the millions of women worldwide who snag a compact of Orgasm blush every two minutes.
The Summer 2013 collection — an edgy, 1970s-esque palette of bold colors — stays true to Nars’ penchant for pushing boundaries. There’s the hot pink Paris Follies lip gloss ($26), the sea-foam green Barrow Street eyeliner ($24) and the Puerto Vallarta multiple ($39), a shimmering, tangerine shade that can be applied to lips, cheeks and eyelids.
“It’s happy makeup,” says Nars of the collection, which he claims is his brightest to date. “The world is crazy in many ways. We need a splash of color and positive energy.” Nars names noted Andy Warhol muses Edie Sedgwick and Debbie Harry as the inspirations behind the kaleidoscopic hues. “They had this electric, crazy, wild rock-star look,” he says. “I like character in a woman — someone who really knows what her look is.”
As for the out-there names? Nars says he plucked them from a running list he keeps of cities, movies, natural phenomena and art that he’s inspired by. “It gives each product personality and character,” he says. “For example, ‘Paris Follies’ was a revue in 1930s Paris. The [shade] reminded me of the dancers, a warm pink on their lips.”
He attributes his line’s ubiquity in part to these ever-shifting passions. “My mood changes with each collection,” he says. “I don’t have a lot of preparation; the way I work is very spontaneous.”
Except, that is, when it comes to his rigorous standards. “I’m really tough. When I work with the chemists, if I don’t like the texture or the formula, I have to start again,” he says. “NARS never stops evolving in terms of quality.”
Find NARS products at Nordstrom (520 N. Michigan) and at Nars.com.
Story by Rachel Handler