Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy Bénédicte de Montlaur and François Nars.


NEW YORK — François Nars is the latest recipient of France’s Legion of Honor.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Nars founder was anointed a Knight of the Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur, or the National Order of the Legion of Honour, in an intimate ceremony at the Payne Whitney Mansion, home to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy here.

The affair was hosted by Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy Bénédicte de Montlaur and previous Légion d’Honneur recipient Ariane Daguin, also founder and chief executive officer of D’Artagnan, a gourmet food company.

Daguin performed the ceremony and, following a brief speech by Nars, the crowd — which was limited to about 30 people per his request — mingled amid Champagne and macarons. In attendance were about half a dozen friends, as well as stylist Patti Wilson, makeup artist James Kaliardos, Marc Rey, president and ceo of Shiseido Americas, and Barbara Calcagni, president of Nars.

During an interview after the ceremony, Nars called “the abundance of makeup lines” the biggest shift in the beauty landscape since he founded his company 22 years ago.

“It’s really overwhelming — so many cosmetic products. We’re trying to stand out, but it’s pretty incredible the amount of cosmetic companies that are happening,” he said, adding that in order to stand out in such a crowded landscape one must “stay true to yourself and true to your DNA…and to be sure that what the vision I had from the beginning remains the same, just moves on to the future — always.”

Calcagni identified this as the reason the brand has achieved the success and growth it has.

“He is uncompromising. He sets the bar very high…and in terms of being the best, it’s never taking no for an answer. We push and we push,” Calcagni said. “He knows exactly what he wants.”

An example: during the creation process of the brand’s most recent collaboration with artist Sara Moon, Nars had a very specific request. The brand shot all original imagery and there was one vertical image that he wanted on a palette. But the brand had never configured its palettes in a vertical manner.

“He said, ‘I want it on this palette,’ and product development got to work and reconfigured the whole compact so…it could open the long way. They made it to fit that image,” Calcagni said.

Kaliardos mirrored Calcagni’s sentiments, but also identified something else: Nars’ admiration of women.

“He’s not obsessed with sexualizing a woman. He offers a variety of other ways of seeing women, not just that one way — which sells,” Kaliardos said.

But what about “Orgasm,” the best-selling blush with a cult following that Nars introduced in 1999?

“It’s tongue in cheek. Yes, a woman can have a blush-colored orgasm but the ad isn’t her with a man in the throes of passion. It’s not about her as seen by a man, it’s her as an independent character who’s really strong. That’s really lacking today,” Kaliardos explained.

As for how he intended to celebrate that evening, Nars was modest about his plans, which included a small dinner at Le Bernardin, “a little toast and then, you know, nothing really fancy.”

Nars is the latest in the fashion and beauty worlds to be honored by the French government. In March, Alber Elbaz was promoted from Knight to Officer of the Legion of Honor, and Alex Dumas, ceo of Hermès International, was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor. In January, Pierre Hardy was appointed Knight of the Legion of Honor by Dumas.

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