By  on August 15, 2014

In 1994, François Nars — not entirely satisfied by the makeup on offer — decided to try his hand at creating products, and entered Barneys New York with 12 lipsticks.

“I had no expectations, period,” Nars told WWD. “I was just hoping it would do well. I didn’t think ‘one day we’ll be in this many countries or have 400 products.’ I just wanted to create great products. I was frustrated with not being able to find the best products or the best colors and I thought it would be fun to create a makeup line.”

Twenty years later, Nars and partner Shiseido (which acquired Nars Cosmetics in 2000) have grown the brand into what industry sources estimate is a $450 million business globally, with more than 600 stockkeeping units and five freestanding Nars boutiques.

“In terms of my creative approach, I follow my instincts and use everything I’ve learned over the years,” said Nars, who remains creative director of the brand. “I create products based on what I’m attracted to in that moment. For example, I can see a specific blue color — in an accessory, a landscape, anything — and say, ‘I want to make an eye shadow exactly that blue.’ I am inspired by everything, places I’ve traveled to, old films, exhibits I’ve visited and even people on the street. I can see something someone is wearing or their hair color, and design with those colors and palettes. That’s the way I design collections.

“Traveling is probably one of the most inspiring things to me. There is always something that triggers my choice of colors and even sometimes my photography. I also love books; I don’t necessarily need to physically travel to a place because I travel through books. I can see a landscape or a culture in a book and that will inspire my work.”

He’s aware of trends, but doesn’t slavishly follow them. “As much as I’ve tried to stay away from trends, you have to be aware of them and aware of what’s going on with the runway shows — the fabrics, shapes, models — you have to relate to that,” he said. “There’s always something that comes out of those trends, so for Nars [Cosmetics], I try to keep it balanced between trendy and classic and that’s not always easy.”

To celebrate the brand’s 20th year, Nars is poised for the biggest launch in his company’s history. The Audacious Lipstick Collection, which will bow in September after a two-week exclusive at Barneys, is a 40-sku offering that is intended to both celebrate the brand’s past and push it into the future. The face of the line is 68-year-old British actress Charlotte Rampling, a longtime muse of Nars. The long-lasting, pigment-rich formula is designed to provide full coverage with a single swipe. Each lipstick retails for $32.

In naming the Audacious lipsticks, Nars said he chose names of strong, rule-breaking and inspiring women whom he has always admired. As with all Nars visuals, he shot Rampling. Nars has to date published five books of photography, most recently “Faery Lands,” a collection of personal photographs of the landscape, culture and people of Motu Tané, an island off the coast of Bora Bora, which he has owned since 2000.

All involved declined comment on projected sales for the Audacious Lipstick lineup, although industry sources estimated that the line would do about $20 million at retail globally in its first year on counter. It will be sold in 1,500 specialty stores worldwide.

Nars’ longtime friend and collaborator Fabien Baron, founder and creative director of Baron & Baron, designed the packaging, a new weighted matte-black metallic case with a magnetic closure and the Nars name embossed on the lipstick bullet.

“François is a visionary,” said Baron, who has been working with Nars since well before the cosmetics brand was launched. “He’s not scared to follow his instincts. He doesn’t question himself. If he likes it, he does it, and his attitude is, ‘If people don’t like it, too bad.’ He’s very secure in his confidence with the product, and that’s unusual.”

For instance, Nars became well-known in the Nineties for creating fresh-faced looks that allowed the texture of the skin to show through, which was unlike the heavier, more opaque foundation-laden looks popular at the time.

“We’ve worked a lot together, and there’s not a lot of back and forth, because we understand each other,” added Baron. “We have the same references and vocabulary. It’s a very rare, no-bulls--t partnership.”

“I’ve seen smaller brands that are now part of large conglomerates lose some of what made them popular to begin with,” said Daniella Vitale, chief operating officer and senior executive vice president of Barneys New York. “Even though François sold the company, he remains a creative force for the brand even now. And he cares very deeply for the brand. He is a very private person, but when he comes to do personal appearances, he wants to be right in the middle of the beauty floor, hearing what women think of his products — he understands the importance of connecting with his consumers. His top 10 sku’s for us are all color — he understands color dynamics and his lip pencils are like candy. You can’t have just one — at least our customers can’t. He also appeals to a very broad range of consumers. He appeals to a young consumer who loves the nail polish and quirky color names, and older customers are drawn to the obvious quality of the products and the range of colors which look good on everyone. And, of course, we’re grateful that he always remembers that he launched with us. He’s very loyal.”

The retailer will host an exhibition of Nars’ photography on Sept. 4, with an event scheduled to be hosted by Linda Evangelista, Simon Doonan and Baron.

“Over the course of 20 years, we have seen François’ vision evolve into a brand that has redefined the conventional norms of beauty,” said Louis Desazars, chief executive officer of Nars Cosmetics. “Nars represents high style, high fashion and forward thinking, remaining focused on creativity, innovative luxury products and artistry. François is never satisfied with past successes and is always pushing the brand forward. He has an uncanny knack for knowing what the consumer will want in the future, and part of his genius is being able to not only anticipate but create trends — not only with Nars icons like Orgasm Blush and the Multiple, but also with newer launches like the Radiant Creamy Concealer and Dual Intensity Blush. Audacious Lipstick is a perfect example of how François drives innovation around a new Nars offering at every level.”

As for what the future will bring, Desazars said, “We are currently exceeding expectations and gaining market share across the regions while building brand equity and strengthening brand awareness. In the U.S., Nars remains one of the fastest-growing makeup brands and internationally we are strengthening our position in Europe and Asia. Over the next few years, we will continue to focus on complexion, which is a very dynamic category for Nars, via innovation and strategic product offerings. In addition, we would like to enhance artistry by increasing education, training and embracing the makeup artist community. We will recruit an even more loyal client base by increasing our engagement in digital media. Globally, we will focus on continuing to build those existing markets showing the most growth — the U.S., the U.K. and Korea, as well as markets with potential for considerable growth in the near future such as Japan, Canada and Australia.”

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