Nars creates make-up collection with his mother as his muse

François Nars says his mother’s beauty helped launch his career and gave name to his new collection

If the last decade in the business of beauty has one dominant feature, it is that the industry has become increasingly led by people who are their own brand. Influencer- and celebrity-led make-up and skincare companies sell products through persona, with their figureheads marketing their own aesthetic or lifestyle. In all this, Nars has remained an industry-leading beauty brand doing nothing of the sort.

Its figurehead and creative director, make-up artist François Nars, is still one of the beauty industry’s quietest and most mysterious figures despite his intense involvement with the minutiae of the brand.

Long before the current social media era when talented make-up artists can launch careers and brand collaborations through the global reach of Instagram, Nars became known in the 1980s and 1990s as the go-to make-up artist of designers, models and celebrities. Now in his 60s, he originally cut his creative teeth doing his mother's make-up as a teenager before graduating from the renowned Carita Institute in Paris, which has turned out some of the best-known and most influential make-up artists of the last century, including Laura Mercier.

Nars launched his brand as a line of lipsticks at Barney’s in New York in 1994 and went on to create some of the best-loved products of all time, perhaps most notably the iridescent pinkish coral blush, Orgasm, whose name made some waves when it first hit beauty counters. Nars has always visibly set itself apart from other brands on the market.

For one thing, its campaigns have traditionally often featured models of varied ethnicities and ages. The brand's spring 2015 campaign featuring actress Tilda Swinton was a triumphant celebration of unorthodox and ephemeral beauty but not at all atypical – Nars himself creates the make-up for every campaign image.

This is why it is not particularly unusual that the model in the campaign for the new Nars Claudette collection is not the twenty-something you might expect to see in standard promotional beauty imagery. Rather, it is the face of Nars’s own mother, Claudette, who he has always credited as his muse. According to Nars, his mother gave him his love of make-up and encouraged his creativity from boyhood.

It was observing the power of her quintessentially French beauty that imparted his lifelong obsession with the female face. “I always remember my mom being extremely beautiful and… getting a lot of attention from people, as they always noticed her in the street or anywhere we would go,” he says. In her make-up, his mother’s focus was always on enhancing eyes and lips while allowing the best of her skin to shine through.

This has been at the centre of her son’s creative process throughout his career. “She didn’t like foundation or anything that was covering her skin too much. She didn’t really need to put on too much because she had naturally beautiful skin. When I started doing her make-up, I was probably the one who put more make-up on her!” he smiles.

Claudette recognised the power of her own beauty in her youth, prioritising a classically elegant aesthetic – “I wore very little make-up: my eyes lightly done, a touch of blush, some lip gloss.”

François Nars is a venerated character in the beauty industry, but it is a mother’s prerogative to give her child a talking to as and when she pleases. Claudette knew exactly what looked best on her – “I used to tell François all the time, don’t put on too much! I never liked it when he was doing a bold look on me. And I love powder, loose powder. He used to tell me no one was wearing powder any more. I always told him when you create a foundation, make it really light and transparent.”

Nars has described his mother as never wanting to be “burdened” by make-up, and this has influenced his own relationship with it as a make-up artist who creates looks with comfort and individual expression at their centre.

Influenced by his mother, the artist has always been drawn to decisive and powerful women like Swinton and French actress Charlotte Rampling, featuring them in campaigns when women over 40 were virtually invisible in beauty marketing.

He and Claudette worked collaboratively on creating the collection that would bear her name, and they shot the campaign imagery in a single day at Hotel Raphael in Paris.

The collection itself features matte lipsticks, as well an eponymous rusty red lipstick – Claudette – which is one of four additions to the brand’s bestselling Audacious Lipstick range (€32). In a homage to Claudette’s love of subtle blush, there are two cheek duos (€48), and the St Germain Des Pres Eyeshadow Palette (€39), a rich array of punchy and neutral shades in matte, satin and high impact shimmer finishes.

An artist fostering a relationship with a muse is hardly unusual, and female make-up artists often credit their mothers as the inspiration behind their profession. It is perhaps less usual for a man in make-up to find a muse in his mother, but then, Nars has always been unusual.

The collection is emotive, elegant and beautiful; a touching tribute to the most influential woman in the artist’s life. Claudette’s closing thought reveals the side of make-up’s most elusive artist that we never get to see, and perhaps the most relatable – the son who worries about his elderly parents’ wellbeing. “He takes good care of us, of me and his father. He sends us vitamins. We’re always checked on. He’s very thoughtful and never forgets us, even if he has a very busy life.”