Makeup Maestro François Nars On His Iconic Long-lived Career

His new film documents spans from inspiration, highlights and supermodel muses.

If you were you to ask a makeup artist for their dream career, they could well choose that of François Nars. His story has been one brimming with success, supermodels, iconic photographers, glossy magazines and designer brands. 

Even if you don’t know the man, you will certainly know his makeup. Starting with a collection of 12 lipsticks that the French-born Nars sold to Barneys New York in 1994, the Nars brand has grown to become arguably one of the most influential cosmetics companies in the world. Now, to celebrate the brand’s 30-year anniversary, Nars has released the documentary film Unknown Beauty: François Nars

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland and narrated by Academy Award nominee Charlotte Rampling, the film is a fascinating montage of the inner workings of Nars’ mind. Part biographical journey of his career and part lesson in filmology, it oscillates between images taken by Nars’ father, which depict the makeup artist enjoying his childhood in the Pyrenees and summers in Biarritz, and clips from more than 50 films spanning decades. 

François Nars, a still from the film Unknown Beauty.
François Nars, a still from the film Unknown Beauty. (Credit: COURTESY FISCHIO FILMS)

“It’s always so hard to do the editing; I drove everyone crazy,” François Nars tells marie claire from a Sydney hotel after the Australian premier of Unknown Beauty

After watching the film, what is abundantly clear is that Nars’ knowledge of cinema and makeup is encyclopedic. “I have this gigantic library in my head,” he says. “I need to have all those things in my mind from the different decades, about makeup, about hair, about fashion.”

Cinema would forever be a source of inspiration for Nars, and from an early age it fostered a deep fascination with beauty. “My parents love going to the movies,” says Nars. “We would go to the movie theatre practically every weekend. I love cinema so much because I’ve learnt so much. It is a really important element for me in my life to always dig back. That’s how I work.” 

Marina Schiano, a still from the film Unknown Beauty.
François Nars’ muse Marina Schiano, a still from the film Unknown Beauty. (Credit: COURTESY FISCHIO FILMS) (Credit: ; COURTESY FISCHIO FILMS)

Starting his career at Carita beauty school in Paris, Nars quickly became a fixture backstage at some of the most influential runways and shoots of the 1980s and ’90s. These decades, of course, brought about the supermodel era, and Nars was at its epicentre. On the sets of photographers such as Irving Penn and Steven Meisel, he worked with the likes of Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell. “I would bring my video camera to the shoot and they let me film,” says Nars. “People got into it.” 

Nars says his love for strong women started with his mother, Claudette, a striking woman who would become Nars’ first and most enduring muse. “I like women with lots of personality, that very strong sense of style,” Nars says, mentioning Italian actor Silvana Mangano. “She is complicated, a bit wild but also extremely elegant.” 

A still from the film Unknown Beauty.
A still from the film Unknown Beauty. (Credit: COURTESY FISCHIO FILMS)

As someone who not only creates beauty but has long been surrounded by it, how does he define it? “What makes somebody beautiful? I like to keep that idea not super clear,” says Nars. “Beauty is very abstract. There are millions of things that are beautiful, [so to me] it’s not just the physical beauty, it’s also the soul.” It is this view – alongside his ability to look back and ahead simultaneously – that perhaps makes Nars’ makeup so current yet also timeless.

François Nars, is on Apple TV+. Nars Beauty is available at

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