There's a buzz in the air amongst beauty aficionados this month as cult brand NARS gets set to launch in the UAE. VIVA catches up with James Boehmer, NARS Director of Global Artistry, to talk about the brand's high-fashion heritage and what beauty means to its famed founder, Francois Nars...
NARS is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, but it hasn’t always been the mega-brand it is today. Tell us about its beginnings.
The beginning of the NARS brand was a collection of 12 lipsticks and it came about during a time when Francois was working on Harper’s Bazaar in the USA, collaborating with Fabien Baron. It was an amazing time, really the golden age of that magazine. Fabien was the Creative Director then, and he and Francois were working on all the shoots together, so when Francois decided he wanted to create a make-up line, he really wanted to do it with Fabien, who was someone he trusted implicitly. From the beginning, Fabien and Francois talked about how the line had to be more than make-up – it has to be something that feels good, that looks good, something that is a pleasure and an indulgence to use and that is a real sensorial experience. The packaging, the colours, the point of view – these are the things that really set NARS apart.
What is something that sets NARS apart in the beauty industry at the time that still resonates today?
The luxe matte black packaging, at the time of the launch, was so extremely modern and forward thinking and different to anything else that was out there. Everything seemed to be super classique – lipsticks that your mother, your grandmother, your teacher would wear, but nothing that felt fresh. Our packaging has definitely been something that has set us apart from the beginning and continues to do so today.
Francois came from a background of make-up as creative expression, working with magazines and on advertising campaigns. How does his creative vision for make-up translate into the collection?
Even in his highly creative work, Francois has always been focused on making women beautiful, empowered and iconic. That translates so much into how women wear make-up today. We might work on a very directional shoot, with dramatic make-up for a magazine, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a literal instruction on how to apply a certain product. These are images designed to inspire, to capture a mood, to create a thought in a woman’s mind of ‘oh, perhaps I could experiment with that colour, maybe I could try that’.
There is such a focus on that concept of having the freedom to ‘play’ with beauty at NARS. Tell me a little about your philosophy when it comes to that.
I remember back when we first launched ‘The Multiple’ stick, it truly was the first genuine multi-use product. At the time, women were so confused! The concept was, and still sometimes is, hard for people to deal with because we were introducing something that didn’t have strict rules or guides. It was an amazing product that you could use anywhere on the face or body to enhance. Francois has always been of the belief that we can’t and won’t ever offer a dictation on how to use a product at Nars, what we want to do is offer options for women to express themselves with our products in their own way.
How does that idea manifest itself day to day at NARS?
We have a real sense of humility that stems from the way Francois has always been. Make-up isn’t about dictating what you should do based on an age or a skin tone. If someone walks up to a NARS counter in a department store and asks ‘what lipstick colour should I be wearing?’, the NARS artist is going to tell them they should be wearing exactly what they want and what they’re drawn to – you make your own rules when it comes to beauty.
How does Francois’s extensive history as a make-up artist affect the way that NARS products are developed today – does it give him special insight into formula innovations?
It’s definitely two fold – we have an amazing product development team and I work very closely with them. We also have a make-up artist panel that works closely with us. Francois has a very distinct and singular vision, he knows what he wants and he always has, so sometimes he will come to us literally with a swatch of colour. A shoe, a bottle cap – he has brought in the most extraordinary things where he wants to recreate the colours or textures. He also has very exacting standards and nothing goes into production without being approved by him. I think it’s a real testament to his authenticity. We don’t follow the market or look at other brands, it’s all about his vision, his aesthetic and his demand for excellence.
You’ve been with the NARS brand for 18 years now, but tell us about the beginnings of your interest in make-up and beauty.
I have always been so inspired by fashion, pop culture and film. I grew up in the Midwest outside of Missouri, very far away from the amazing scenes of London, New York and Paris. For me, the discovery of old Hollywood, literature, music and fashion was so inspiring and it made me think about the world as something of wonder. I fell in love with fashion in my teenage years and I remember visiting the only bookstore in my town, it’s where I went to get inspired. This was before the internet, before everything was so accessible. I’d look at the amazing international magazines and started discovering these amazing fashion moments that were happening and I wanted to be part of it.
Were you aware of the work of Francois Nars specifically at that age?
Some of the things that I would tear out of magazines and pin on my wall, amazing photo shoots and campaigns, were created by Francois and I was very aware that it was his work. When you love a world, you study it, and I felt very in tune with the hallmarks of his work and the signature of his style. I was very lucky later on after I’d committed myself to becoming a make-up artist, after having worked as an assistant, found great mentors and started paying my dues in the industry, to come into contact with Francois and to have the chance to work closely with him and become part of his team.
Working with Francois on his iconic book, Makeup Your Mind, must have been an incredible experience. Can you tell us about it?
I felt really lucky to be part of that process. Especially when you work with someone like Francois, he is so generous with what he knows about artistically, he doesn’t hold back, there are no secrets. There is so much freedom to work with him – he gives great direction but he isn’t a dictator. He has such an attention to detail, and the people who have worked with him for a long time learn the shapes and signature beauty details that he loves.
What can customers expect when they visit NARS counters?
The great thing about NARS is the consistency. We and our team of artists around the world are all really on the same page. There’s so much freedom to work and be expressive, but every NARS artist around the world has a really good understanding of the classic Francois smokey eye, the classic NARS way of defining an eyebrow – they know all these specific references and things that are part of our visual language so that they can communicate it to our customers and share the knowledge. It’s also great that we have this consistency, because if you’ve experienced the brand overseas and love it, there’s going to be just the same great feeling here in Dubai. It’s always about being expressive, be artistic with your make-up, don’t be afraid to try something new, don’t be too serious about it – make it your own!
Tell me a little about your perception of Middle Eastern beauty based on the time you’ve spent here so far.
I think women in the Middle East are already very in sync with the ideals of the NARS brand in terms of being quite fearless and bold with their make-up, using it as a form of self-expression. They look at colour cosmetics and makeup as an extension of their fashion look, and that’s exactly how Francois looks at it, too.
Can you pinpoint for us some of the key products that we should be picking up as the building blocks of our NARS beauty kits?
Black Moon and Mambo eyeliners – the most amazing eye pencils that can be used for smudging, shaping and contouring. I also highly recommend
The Multiple in Copacabana as an amazing, universal illuminator. Ashes to Ashes eyeshadow is a colour I always use that’s a perfect warm and cool combination. I’s a pewter colour with a tiny hint of pearl. For lips, I like Heatwave lipstick, I suppose because it resonates with me – it’s my all time favourite just sentimentally, because it’s the first one I bought from the brand. It’s an amazing fiery red that looks good on everyone. But of course all the products in the range are amazing!
Unlawful Blush, Dhs159
Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer, Dhs199
Night Porter Night Series Eyeliner, Dhs115
NARS launches at Sephora, Mall of The Emirates from 16th October and at The Dubai Mall from the 1st November.