Magnificent Obsession

NARS x Steven Klein Collaboration

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Creative collaborations seem to have become a facile way for cosmetics companies to exploit the distinct marketing advantage of covetable and collectable limited edition offerings, and to enjoy the extra exposure afforded by cross-industry name recognition. In the case of makeup artist favorite NARS Cosmetics, however, collaborations are truly the organic result of a complex creative process, born of the mutual admiration between two artists. Francois Nars, Founder & Creative Director of NARS Cosmetics and an acclaimed photographer himself, has chosen to partner only with artists, photographers, and fashion designers, living or dead, such as Andy Warhol, Guy Bourdin, and Christopher Kane, whose work or vision are not only a good match for NARS products, but which more importantly push creative limits even further. François Nars explains: “We build collections from scratch, we don’t just take two things and put them together. I like things done a certain way, and they have to be done well.”

NARS’ newest project, a magnificent holiday collection, is also a fruitful creative collaboration with cult photographer Steven Klein. Eminently obsession-worthy and gift-able, it’s probably not something to give grandma for Christmas: Klein has been known throughout his career for his boundary pushing, edgy, at times fetishistic work, seemingly a counter intuitive choice for a holiday collection. However, the formulas are so extraordinary and the packaging so beautiful, that it somehow makes perfect sense. Francois Nars welcomed the idea that working with Steven Klein might mean creating a controversial product. “You don’t look at his images and instantly think about makeup,” he explains. “When I approached him about a collaboration, he responded right away and was very excited. I think it was unexpected for him, and we both realized this idea was something very different.” Klein’s darkly iconic images were the starting point for the collection, and informed everything from the formulas, to the colors, to the packaging. “I started by working with Steven to identify imagery for the collection,” says Nars. “I met him at his studio in Chelsea and he showed me all of his photographs, some I knew, some I didn’t. We are friends, so it was very laid back. Then we met again and sorted the images. (…) It was very fun, almost like going shopping. Looking at thousands of images you love (…) That’s my favorite part in the whole process – choosing the images and meeting with the artist who dedicated his/her life to them. Then I try to build something from there.”

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The final ten or so photos were chosen with the help of art director Fabien Baron, who is the man behind NARS’ instantly recognizable, clean-lined packaging. These images needed to be representative, and at the same time constitute a coherent narrative. “Fabien thought it was a fabulous idea to work with Steven, the whole process was really smooth. He created all of the packaging, the keepsake boxes and the logo.” The unique packaging was very carefully thought out. The most risqué container is without doubt the Full Frontal box, which contains a set of kabuki brushes. The outer sleeve is plastered with a photo of a scantily dressed male pole dancer, and the inner keepsake case bears a close-up image of a man in a studded thong. It’s perfect for display on a vanity, or even for storing cigarettes, which happen to be a frequent prop in Klein’s photos. The most collectable item would have to be the An Abnormal Female Lip Pencil Coffret, a large gold and red bullet-shaped container, an objet d’art in its own right, containing three Velvet Matte Lip Pencils in Sex Machine, Dragon Girl, and 413 BLKR, which Nars aptly refers to as “weapons of seduction.”

Francois Nars is infamous for the edgy and evocative monikers he gives his products, which run the gamut from the titillating, such as Orgasm, Deep Throat, and Pussy Galore, to the exotic and obscure, such as Peloponnese, Euphrate, and Kamchatka. This time, he left the nomenclature reins to Klein: “Because Steven has such a world of his own and an intellectual vision of his imagery, I thought it made sense for him to come up with the names.” This strategy yielded truly original results. A dual-intensity eye shadow palette called Dead of Summer contains four wet-dry shadows, including three new limited-edition-shades named by Klein: a golden toned Studly, a rose-bronze Stag Film, and a dark slate Blackmail. Another eye set called Tearjerker exploits the theme of cinematographic emotion with two new limited edition kohl liners, Tragic and X-Static, as well as a mini Audacious Mascara. This is a good example of how thoughtfully Nars integrated appropriate existing products into this collaboration, as the Audacious mascara gives an intentionally clumpy effect that is well suited to the “tearjerker” theme. The name of the Magnificent Obsession Red Lip Set may reference the classic romantic film starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, but it could also describe Nars and Klein’s shared fascination with a dramatic red lip. It contains a new limited edition Velvet Lip Liner in Misdemeanor, a classic red, a lipstick in Flamenco, a candy-apple shade, and a Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in the universally flattering Mysterious Red.


This brings us to the formulas. The Velvet Matte Lip pencils are indeed both velvety and matte. They go on smoothly, but have real staying power, and the advantage of more precise application than a lipstick. The most wearable award goes to Killer Shine lipstick, a new formulation that is creamy and glossy, with saturated pigments that ensure long wear, in Besame Mucho, a nearly neutral deep rosy beige that complements a range of skin tones. Killer Shine glosses, which can be worn alone or layered on top of the lipstick, are also an all-new formula, infused with nourishing camellia oil. They lend dramatic dimension to the lips. Both of these products exploit Klein’s fascination with the extreme reflectivity and texture of patent leather and latex. On the subject of extreme shine, special mention should also go to the nail polishes in the collection. NARS is already well known for must-have nail polishes, but when a new shade is released, and it’s a shimmery slate blue inspired by the unique saturated yet dark color spectrum of Klein’s work, fans take notice. The formulation is impressive: the glossy finish is long lasting, the application idiot-proof, and the dry time remarkably fast. Possibly the most surprising formula is the Dual-Intensity Blush in Vengeful, a dark brick-red color paired with a white-gold highlighter. In the package, this hard-edged, very graphically presented blush looked intriguing, but also intimidating, perhaps not like anything one would actually want to wear. In reality, the product melts into the skin, delivering a unique, fevered flush. NARS blushes are known for their fine texture, which can be used to render a believable or dramatic look, and this version does not disappoint. “The wet/dry formula is a completely new approach to blush. What I love about makeup is that it lets you express yourself and, in a way, this blush takes that concept to another level. Apply it wet for this watercolor effect that is so unexpected. Apply it dry for bold, beautiful color. There are so many possibilities,” says Nars. The white-gold highlighting powder that accompanies the blush, however, is far from natural. It gives a strobe light effect best reserved for evening, and an evening out somewhere avant-garde at that. But this collection is all about stylized drama, and in that respect, this product is perfect.

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“Stylized drama” could also describe the killer preview party thrown by Nars and Klein at Alder Manor in Yonkers, complete with drag queens, disco inferno ambiance, and an edgy guest list that included de rigueur party fixture Alexander Wang and nineties club queen Amanda Lepore, known among other things for her over the top lips, and who looked like she might have scored an advance sample of the Limited Edition Killer Shine Lip Gloss in Special Force. Also in attendance was trans model Andreja Pejić, male models in fishnets and platform heels, and the legendary Susanne Bartsch. “It was like Steven’s photography that came to life,” raves Nars. “We were able to create an entire environment at this large manor—each room was a different experience that spoke to the collection and to Steven’s work. The whole house looked like a horror movie. It was very surreal.” A Steven Klein-produced short film shot at Alder Mansion, hauntingly neon-lit and featuring bondage-masked figures, empty swimming pools, Juliette Lewis in full glitter face rifling through a medicine cabinet, and seminude male models, was recently released by NarsMedia, and gives civilians a teasing taste of the experience.

Text by Karena Gupton Akhavein
Photography by NARS/Steven Klein