Francois Nars had Andy Warhol coffee table books in his living room and Yves Saint Laurent in his closet growing up in the '70s in the south of France.
"I always feel so terrible for the people who got born after that era because there was something really in the air that was unexplainable," the makeup legend said, lounging in the lobby of a Midtown hotel for a recent interview.
"There was something very, very free. Today, everything is so much more controlled and so much more prepared," he said.
Fear not, post-Baby Boomers. In this, the 25th anniversary year of Warhol's death, Nars' namesake company has taken on the pop icon's silvery Factory, silkscreened superstars and avant-garde films in a limited-edition cosmetic collection, exclusive to the US cosmetics store Sephora until November 1.
It's the first time the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has collaborated on cosmetics, and the 29-piece Nars line coincides with the exhibit Regarding Warhol: 60 Artists, 50 Years, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art running through Dec. 31.
Michael Hermann, licensing director for the Warhol foundation, said it decided to venture into cosmetics with Nars because of the latter's "fearless, cutting-edge approach."
"For Warhol, makeup was an arrow in the quiver one could use to embody his democratic approach to beauty best embodied in his own words when he said, 'If everybody's not a beauty, then nobody is,"' Hermann explained.
Nars, who is in his late 40s and moved to New York in 1984, missed out on meeting Warhol, but has visited the artist's world in the past with his Chelsea Girls lip lacquer and other homages.
There is the Edie (Sedgwick) Gift Set. The film canister with a portrait of the actress on it contains everything from lipgloss to eyeshadow. Another set in the collection sees lip glosses packed into a soup can covered in the infamous lips of Warhol's muses, while bright greens and blues are intricately shaped into one of Warhol's famous self-portraits in an eye palette etched with the Andyism: "I believe in low lights and trick mirrors."
Nars has scaled back his runway work to a few designers he admires, his friend Marc Jacobs included. Working backstage in September, Nars created big Edie eyes for Jacobs' own '60s moment, a pop-inspired spring collection at New York Fashion Week.
"If Andy was still alive we probably would have met at a certain point and I would probably have photographed him for a book. We would have connected, definitely," said Nars, who remains creative director of Nars cosmetics, acquired in 2000 by Shiseido, and still shoots the company's ad campaigns.
Nars has worked on some of the fashion industry's most famous faces, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangalista and Naomi Campbell among them. He has taken photos for the industry's top magazines, produced several books of portrait art and is working on a book focused on Tahiti, where he owns an island.
Looking back, Nars said his fashion-forward mother, Claudette, was a "big, big influence."
"My mother and my two grandmothers, I was lucky to have three women around me growing up that were very special, very elegant women, very beautiful women," he said. "They were my first step into the beauty world, let's say, and then the fashion world, of course."
Nars remembers shopping trips to Paris from their home in Tarbes.
"I was a very lucky child because at the age of 16, 17 years old my parents would buy me clothes from Yves Saint Laurent, which was an incredible luxury at the time, but I was attracted to that whole world," he said. "I had a pretty nice little wardrobe by the age of 17."
After graduating from the Carita makeup school in Paris at 18, Nars wanted to pursue studio work but was in need of a job. He dispatched Claudette for makeup sessions with top names in the business to chat them up from the chair and ask if they needed assistants.
The first one didn't bite but the second, Olivier Echaudemaison, did.
"I was not there because I was too shy," said Nars of Echaudemaison, now the creative director of Guerlain. "He did her makeup and the next day I went to meet him with my mum. He said, 'OK, the fashion shows are starting in Paris in a month, why don't you assist me.' And that's how I started."
It was a few years later when Nars caught the eye of Vogue fashion stylist Polly Mellen and made the move to New York.
"Polly knew the makeup I was doing through the magazines in France and said I want you to meet Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Steven Klein. I want you to work for Vogue."
Nars' perception of beauty hasn't changed since he launched his company with 12 lipsticks sold at Barney's in 1994.
"I really wanted to have a different approach of beauty because when I came to America they were still heavily, heavily plastic," he said. "The ads were so heavily retouched. My goal was always to make the girl look real, and look beautiful. It didn't matter how much makeup. Sometimes it was none at all."