Backstage-beauty legend François Nars is celebrating his 20th anniversary by sharing his secrets. If you are the proud owner of the famously flattering Nars Blush in Orgasm—or of a Multiple cream color stick (one of which flies off shelves every four minutes in the United States)—you have François Nars to thank. Since launching his line with just 12 lipsticks back in 1994, the French makeup icon (and collaborator of designers like Marc Jacobs and Karl Lagerfeld) has quite literally changed the way women everywhere look today. But here, let him explain for himself…


You’re a makeup artist, photographer, and makeup creator—sort of the ultimate beauty mogul! Was this always the dream?
Yes, since I was 11 or 12! It was the early seventies, and I discovered makeup by going through my mother’s fashion magazines. I fell in love with the photos, the models, the fashion.

What was your big break?
Legendary fashion editor Polly Mellen booked me to shoot the fashion collections in Paris with [photographer] Peter Lindbergh. It changed everything.

Nars is one of the few lines adored both by our readers and by pros. How’d you pull that off?
I don’t think there’s a major change between runway and real life anymore. My vision was to create makeup that was more transparent but with formulas that last. I follow my instincts—it’s all very spontaneous!

How has beauty changed in the past two decades?
Women don’t want to feel like they’re wearing makeup. I hope I was partly responsible for that. Polly Mellen always felt that my touch was lighter than other makeup artists’ at the time. That was the start of seeing more freckles, seeing more skin on models. It’s like what Coco Chanel did for women by freeing them from corsets—not that I want to compare myself to her.

Any products you’re especially proud of?

I’ve got to give credit to Orgasm—it’s becoming the planet’s ultimate blush!

You launched a dozen lipsticks in ’94. Now you’re coming out with 40 shades called Audacious Lipsticks. Tell us what’s new.
Better, nondrying formulas, amazing pigments. The texture is like velvet! And they’re inspired by beauty icons like Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrich, and Janet Leigh.

How does a woman find her best makeup shades?

Your look should fit your personality. My mom is a great beauty, but red lips weren’t for her. She was into beige lips and stronger eyes. If a friend says that red doesn’t look good, listen to your friend. Well, listen to yourself first; just don’t follow fashion blindly.

So we shouldn’t all be wearing runway trends?
Do single elements of an extreme look, not the whole thing. Keep a matte look from becoming too flat by adding shimmery highlight on cheekbones and eyes or lips.

What about making your makeup last—any tips?
The details count: It’s important to prep with skin care and primer, and always powder your foundation lightly to set it. For eyes, brush lashes between coats of mascara.

Finally, French versus American women—still see a difference?
American women are still lovers of makeup. They want a total, perfected look. French women, not as much. It’s a different attitude to what they feel sexy is. I love them all!