Posted by | June 19th, 2018

Pep Gay on Fabien Baron and What Makes Outstanding Product

Pep Gay on Fabien Baron, NARS, and What Makes Outstanding Product

In 1994 New York, French makeup artist Francois Nars unveiled a new collection of 12 lipsticks in Barneys, one of the fashion beacons of NYC retail. It marked the start of a new eponymous line that would become a classic – highly regarded not only for its quality and the daring shades used but also for its impressive packaging and logo design. After nearly a quarter-century Nars Cosmetics still stands out as an entity demanding your attention – boldly black with clean, white lines, and a modern rubberized touch. What’s more is its cult status was achieved all without the help of social media, an impossible feat by today’s standards.

Fabien Baron is no stranger to this evolution. An art director and former editorial director of the now-defunct Interview Magazine, the multi-hyphenate is also a product and packaging designer, graphic designer, film director, furniture and eyewear designer, photographer, and intuitive artist. As the man behind the design and the creation of the NARS logo, Baron has been collaborating with the beauty company since its very start.

I spoke with Baron to share his personal experience with the creative process of designing the NARS corporate imagery and what led him to come up with one of the most iconic logos in the beauty industry. I was personally curious to see why graphic design expertise is essential for visuals and what personal involvement he has with the creation of fonts. We also talked at length about social media, his interaction with it and how he feels about the digital medium. My main question stood as this: does social media make us more prolific since we’re exposed to more or are we ultimately less creative? Introduces Contributing Beauty Editor Pep Gay in a first of a series of behind the scenes takes on the creative industry

A interview by Pep Gay
Introduction by Pep Gay
Editors / Stephan Moskovic & Irene Ojo-Felix
Video produced and directed by Pep Gay for

Special Thanks / Brian Heterington at Baron & Baron and Anita Lee at Management Artists
Cover photo by Fabien Baron, courtesy of Baron & Baron

Special Acknowledgements: Wes Deimling at Artreides Productions, Richard Penverthy, Karlo Steel and JoJo Asuncion

Pep Gay: Your career began in 1972, working with your father in the newspaper world where things were done manually using a Xerox photocopy machine.

Fabien Baron: Yes—layouts were all drawn with a pencil actually, by hand. We were working with photocopies.

Did you understand the importance of fonts early on in your career?

Yes, fonts were really the only tangible piece of visual creative you had to work with. A layout was two things then – a picture, which would be a print that was given to you, and then type. And for the type you could choose from these books that were filled with pages and pages of the alphabet in different fonts. From there you had to make it work — calculate how many characters you had per line, how many lines you had per text and so on.

Did you have a favorite typeface back then?

I used a lot of Futura, a lot of Franklin Gothic…some Helvetica. Aha, what else did we use? Bodoni.

Is your relationship with fonts influenced by that time period?

I think I learned a more artisanal approach. You had to draw the type when you were doing a layout—actually hand-draw the headline. So you had to understand innately that this word will take this amount of space this way and that way, the length and height of each letter, all of that. No computers—you had to draw, and you had to know.

That big bold type for fashion magazines—everybody is using it now, but you didn’t see it anywhere at the time. The boldness, the single lead line, the single word….it’s a certain way of expressing ideas for headlines. I think I kind of invented that. Some of those style cues that are just the standard today.

So it was more of an artisan’s approach?

Totally. There was a craft to the job. Now that skill is gone, and it’s been replaced with a keyboard and a screen. Before you had these tactile tools to work with—like any craftsman. We had different types of rulers, tools to change the point sizes and leading, different pencils and pens… everything had its purpose. The blue pencil for example. Blue pencil wouldn’t show up on film, so it was the pencil you could mark everything with. Similar to the way green screen works in cinema, you know.

Did your work with fonts have an impact on how people viewed you professionally?

Hmm…I think perhaps the approach to type I introduced in magazines has had an influence. That big bold type for fashion magazines—everybody is using it now, but you didn’t see it anywhere at the time. The boldness, the single lead line, the single word….it’s a certain way of expressing ideas for headlines. I think I kind of invented that. Some of those style cues that are just the standard today.

Who are some of the graphic designers that influenced you very early on in your career?

No one really. I think I was more influenced by type books. It’s a funny story and actually, I’ve never told anyone. My idea of coming up with big headlines and simple headlines came from type books. Font makers back then were making booklets to sell a certain type of typeface. They had to show all the sizes—so they would show a block of type. They were showing this headline in this size, one line and then a bigger in another line, bigger line, bigger line. And sometimes they would show four letters and the type was fantastic. So I thought rather than doing a headline, a survey and all the layering, let’s do a single word, really powerful, five letters. I just loved how those type books looked, and I took that style from there. So it’s from the craft, from early on.

What were your art direction influences when you first started?

Back then? Not really art directors. I was looking at photographers. I was always more into photography. Being an art director was something that I only started looking at because my Dad was an art director. You know, you wanted to do the same thing that your Dad did.…you wanted to have that connection, make him proud. But at the same time, my real love was photography. When I was 15, I got my first camera and then I started to take pictures.

Which were the photographers that you were looking at?

Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, Daniel Jouanneau, Irving Penn, Avedon, you know, these people.

And you worked with all of them later on in your career?

Yes, yes, except Newton. Never worked with him, we talked many times about doing a job together, but there was always that old issue of budgets (laughter). But everyone else I’ve worked with, yes.

Your work at Harpers Bazaar brought a big change at the magazine and it was immediately recognizable by a spare, elegant and minimalist style. Harpers Bazaar and the work you did for NARS shared the same aesthetics in the sense that they were modern, clean, spare and elegant. Was your aesthetic approach in print a direct reaction to the current feel of the day?

Definitely. I think when I did Bazaar, what I tried to do graphically and the way I was using the page, was a reflection of what was going on in fashion. Something that felt, you know, accurate for the moment. I was really trying to be in tune with what was happening on the runway. I’m always extremely influenced by what I see on the runway when I do layouts—even still today.

What constitutes a strong logo?

Its impact. Instantly being memorable. And its longevity. A good logo, when you look at it, you need to think almost… “Did this exist before?” It should feel like it always existed, and will exist 20 years from now, 30 years from now. You know the logos that are not so good are the ones you want to redesign after 2 years (laughter). I mean many companies have to redesign their logos, but when you have a really great logo it’s hard to touch. So I put a lot of effort into logos, into the branding. We usually don’t use fonts that already exist. We usually draw. We may get influenced by fonts, but we redraw everything because I think it’s very important that the graphics have a lot of personality, authenticity. That human element.

So you’re going back to square one when you started with your father? When you were drawing everything by hand.

Totally, that’s craft. Today it’s all done on a computer, but you know like (lowering voice)… I’ve seen a lot of the kids here, when they come in they’re in the habit of doing logos ta, ta, ta, ta (mimicking typing on a keyboard). They’ll try this typeface or that typeface—but they’re not trained to really see the letters and what that letter does. Like, the letter ‘S’ becomes a different thing visually if it’s next to an ‘R’. There’s a space that’s created. So that changes which font is going to work better. They haven’t learned to think that way. The way I learned, drawing by hand, it’s almost like a muscle memory. I feel it from a different direction. I look at the negative/positive space. That’s why I still draw it by hand…you might start out modeling it off a certain font, then you look at it. You can study letter by letter, and how this letter behaves with that letter next to it. And you know, how they play with one another and what’s better. You see places where it just feels wrong. So I re-draw it again. In the end, you get a font that doesn’t exist yet. I’ve never done a logo out of the box from a font, never.

Is that important to you? Not using a prepackaged font?

No, it’s that it just doesn’t work! To me it’s just not enough, it needs to have the human touch. You need to bring that feeling, those emotions, what that company stands for into the type. It’s the same as a fashion designer. A dress might start with a computerized pattern, but at some point, you have the body of a person to make it right. You need to put your hand into it. For me a logo is not pret-a-porter, it needs to be couture.

So what you are describing is basically an original?

Original and it has to be unique. It’s only that company that should look like that.

For me a logo is not pret-a-porter, it needs to be couture.

I think that’s one of the hardest parts when you are in creative fields, especially in the fashion business. Being called an “original.” A lot of the ideas tend to be reinterpretations and work tends to look a little bit like what has been done before. In this case, we have a great example with Azzedine Alaïa who was truly an “original.” His approach to work was very much what you’re describing, which is trying to grab things and make it your own. Reinterpreting things.

I just believe craft is important. I think when you remove the craft out of the work it’s like removing the emotion out of everything. It’s maybe coming from my education, being European, born in France, living with all this history around. I was going to the museums all the time, looking at the incredible architecture. When you see Notre Dame every day, and you study it, this philosophy of craftsmanship becomes a part of your being. You study that little statue there, 500 years, 600 hundred years old… this piece that’s been made by hand, and it’s so delicate and so perfect. Somebody spent so much time and love, choosing the right stone, chiseling it, one piece at a time, getting it exactly right. Centuries later there it is, there it stays. You know what I mean? It’s made to truly last, and that is amazing to me. I worry that craftsmanship is disappearing. It’s disappearing in photography and everything becomes automatic. Everybody has access to a phone and is able to take a picture or make a video. But I think we’re losing the craft of slowing down and making art that’s meant to last. Social media is taking away, chipping away from that. It makes me a little sad.

So when you approach your work are you thinking about working every image, working every product and thinking more about things that have a value and that are going to have a life? That they are going to have a lasting presence?

Yes. I hope so, yes that’s the goal. I want people to really pay attention to what they are looking at.

Does it worry you because of the digital world we live in, that things last for such a short period of time?

Yeah, I think that. You know that it doesn’t matter. Social Media is here now, there’s this meme, or that “It Girl” or whatever viral video. Notre Dame will be around in 200 hundred years, 300 hundred years, but those things won’t be. That’s the way I look at it. You know, like the really meaningful things they stick. Don’t you think?


You know, Irving Penn pictures, they will all stick, Avedon pictures they will stick. Some of them in 200 or 300 hundred years from now, people will still talk about Avedon pictures and Irving Penn pictures. The same way as you still talk about Da Vinci, you know. And he still sells for 450 million dollars, you know?

Some people that know your work immediately think that you are a modernist and a minimalist. Do you consider yourself a modernist?

Yeah, I think I am a modernist and a minimalist. Although, I don’t like labels because I do other things too. I think I also adapt to the times, you know.

What’s modern?

What’s modern? To me what is really modern is what is now, pushed to the most extreme degree.

So you are always looking to “push” things?

Yes, I like to push. I like to push the norm…go further. I mean I am not satisfied looking at old books and reproducing old patterns. I’ve always hated that. For me references are meant to all percolate in your mind, never be a model to be replicated. Because your mind takes things in, and then it re-interprets them in different ways. Whenever I think of a picture I want to reference for someone, and we go find it, it never looks the way I have it in my head. It’s different—morphed somehow, or mixed up with some other images I’ve seen. But I like that. Too many people study an image and try to recreate it. I like when your mind uses references to invent your own imagery.

When it comes to packaging design is simply making beautiful things enough or is utility always a factor?

I think utility is essential. It’s got to be practical right?

PG: More than the way it looks?

No. I think utility and beauty if you can mix the two really, really well—that’s the only way to win. The best example is Apple, a utilitarian product, but designed impeccably.

Help us understand the importance of packaging and product design. What is the core objective for good packaging and product design?

I think I never look at packaging only for packaging reasons. I always look at the concept. Sometimes we get a packaging brief from a beauty company, and by the time we’re done, we’ve changed everything – the name, the direction of the packaging, the concept, the marketing strategy, where it will sit on the shelf, the advertising, we’ve pushed it all to the next level. It’s not enough anymore just to have a pretty picture and an attractive bottle. Beauty companies sometimes…they’re used to playing too safe.

It is interesting to hear you say that because of the first article that I wrote for I was talking about just that. I was talking about how I felt that fashion photography has evolved, but beauty photography, it seems to be very…


It’s almost like it’s slower.

It’s always slower. It’s always been slower. Fashion leads, beauty follows.

But beauty trends go hand in hand with fashion, they evolve hand in hand with fashion…

Yes, they do. But not so much the marketing. Beauty tends to target a larger market. And to be able to be understood by the marketing teams, it takes time. It takes two seasons. It used to take six seasons but now it takes only two, because of social media. Trends spread much quicker. But to be honest, the beauty industry is still way behind. You see, for example, what Pat McGrath is doing. What she is saying, what she is doing, the way she is launching that product, the product itself—there is such a huge gap between how she’s doing things and where the industry is. You agree with that?

I totally agree with you on that.

It seems that they are ten steps behind. And it has to probably do with the marketing people and the investment. Maybe, I don’t know.

It’s very interesting what you’re saying because I always… We both travel a lot, and we both go through Duty-Free shops in airports. In the last 20 years, the faces on the beauty campaigns/advertising on display have changed, but not the message.

Same thing, same song.

Right? Which is shocking. One would expect that they would be a bit more forward with their concepts and messaging.

But it’s the same formula, it’s exactly the same formula.

As digital influences quicken, the consumption of visuals, how do you make things valuable and enduring? Or should everything be more ephemeral and disappear?

Haaaaa! Ultimately everything disappears, right? But now it’s about “Can it last more than 2 seconds?” It’s difficult. You look at magazines and the speed is too slow for it to be interesting for people, because of this (pointing to a phone). It changed everything, didn’t it?

Yes, it seems like people have very little…

Attention span.

How do you feel about that?

Well… honestly, I feel the product that you see doesn’t really deserve more than 2 seconds. And when it does, you look for more than 2 seconds and you’ll remember it. I am more interested in that product.

You stop?

The good stuff I stop and look at. The problem is how many things in one day do you see that are really good on Instagram?

The beauty industry is still way behind. You see, for example, what Pat McGrath is doing. What she is saying, what she is doing, the way she is launching that product, the product itself—there is such a huge gap between how she’s doing things and where the industry is.

But wasn’t it the same with magazines back then?

No, no. You were buying magazines. It was a whole experience. Different stories to discover, amazing photography… you would sit with it and savor. With Instagram, it’s just a constant stream of posts the size of a stamp. You know what I mean? It’s like, if you serve fast food, people will eat it fast. Right? Magazines were like a gourmet meal. So when I post a picture on Instagram, I do it because it’s special, I am sharing that moment.

Do you think that approach to social Media should be used today by an up and coming person? Someone younger? Because I believe if a younger person would approach the same way you do, they will basically disappear in this vast sea of information. I am saying this because you are somebody that… Who has made a huge impact in the fashion Industry and who has a huge name and recognition.

So you mean that I get a certain amount of followers anyway?

Yes. So it’s easy for you to still be up there and present, where let’s say, somebody who is very young…

You think it’s like if they will do nice pictures, people wouldn’t care?

Yes, if they would do exactly what you described before. If they would be posting those pictures that they feel connected to, because they are nice images, but they don’t self-promote.

You think that wouldn’t work with social Media?

I wonder. And I guess that’s what I’m asking. Do you think that a younger person would survive doing that the way you approach things?

(Pausing to think) Yes. It’s more unique somehow. Maybe it wouldn’t get a lot of followers, but at least the followers you will get will really like it. Really pay attention, you know? Instead of doing another picture of yourself like everyone is doing… “me with this”, “me with that”. Or “my dog with this” ,“my dog with that.” You know like, millions of people are doing that. And it’s interesting, you know? It’s not like the people with the most followers are the most artistic people, right? It’s something else. I guess the question is, do you want to be that person? Or do you want to be more artistic and more intellectual? I’d rather be artsier and more intellectual personally because that’s what I connect with more.

We have seen how social media is dominating all the channels of communication in the fashion world. You are very active on Instagram where you focus on posting more of your personal work. It’s obvious that the digital revolution has had a huge impact on all of us. Where do you place yourself within this digital age?

I have an issue with it. I’m turned off by the idea of putting yourself out there, your privacy and your life, everything you do, to either promote yourself or acquire followers. I have a difficult time with that.

What would be your ideal interaction with social media?

I think using it as a tool for learning is not a bad thing. When Instagram first came out, I thought, “Oh fantastic! I’m a photographer.” I take pictures every day and that’s my mood board for the day. If I am at the beach, I put the beach. If I’m in NY, or Milan for the shows, or back to Paris, or in Los Angeles for shoots. So the pictures start to have a pattern of my life. I thought that was interesting, I liked that about it, right. And then I think what happened, was that everybody turned it into self-promotion…this projection of what you wanted people to think about you. Me, me, me, and me. I am doing this, doing that, doing this, doing that. Selfie, selfie, selfie. All the way to – RIP – Azzedine everybody and their mother putting Azzedine on their social media. I knew him very, very well, for 25 years. I didn’t post anything. I find it somehow…I found it a little bit offensive. So why do people need to post a picture of them with Azzedine? Isn’t there a better way to pay tribute to someone? It’s like it was just trendy.

I guess people are trying to tap into the feel of the moment, on the trend of the moment. So they get the algorithm and they get their Instagram account pushed in. You talk about a topic that a lot of people are talking about so you are a part of that channel. So the more people are talking about one topic, the more it becomes a trending topic and then people get attention because they are talking about that topic.

So, where does Azzedine fit in all of this?

Nowhere. Besides that, he became a trending topic, (sadly) for a few days because of his death.

Is that good?

I don’t think so!

Well, that’s what I think. That’s why I didn’t post anything. But at the same time, I have to say this. I did post something about Franca Sozzani—I put a picture of what I was seeing when I was thinking about her really deeply. But I didn’t put a picture of me and Franca Sozzani, or Franca Sozzani by Peter Lindbergh. I didn’t feel it was appropriate.

You were paying homage to Franca.

Yes, yes. And I feel like that is what is lacking. I don’t know… I feel there is a lack of emotion — a lack of honor with social Media. It feels self-serving.

It’s selling out?

I don’t know if it’s a sellout. It’s a sell in, you know? They’re trying to buy in. Maybe I am old-fashioned. All the young people don’t see what I see when I say that. I don’t know, what do you think?

I think there is a contradictory message with social Media. I think people like you and I have a problem with it because we grew up in a time where things were completely different. We saw how influential and how good the times were when we grew up and I think right now social Media is not really connecting everybody. We are losing a lot of different points of view with social Media. As you said crafting, being more in contact with people, being able to share “real” information not just trends. So I think there is a contradiction with social Media within our generation. But for the younger generation, because they haven’t seen the past it’s perhaps why they are so connected to it and they don’t see what you’re trying to convey.

It’s like a drug too. Do you know what I mean? I also feel that all the work that goes there…is not real work. It’s not bringing anything new. What are you bringing to the table that I haven’t seen or commented about already?

It’s just repeating itself?

You know what I am talking about. I think it’s very important that we are all here for a reason. We are all here to do something. What’s your contribution? Are you satisfied with that selfie? Or do you want to put more into it? I have a tendency to think I want to give more. I think people in our generation…the Marc Ascoli and people like that, they don’t sell out. Alaïa didn’t sell out.

Maybe some people have a feeling or they’re maybe afraid that they may miss the train in a way.

What train?

Well, I think it’s interesting that you just said. When you see now where the beauty industry is with all these new up and coming companies. Obviously, the Internet and social Media have given a chance for small companies to emerge…

I think that it’s great if social Media can bring newness. I think it’s fantastic. That’s true, there is one side of it that is like that. That side is amazing. This idea that anybody, whoever they are, can have the possibility today to be heard. That’s incredible. I guess what I am complaining about is when you know you already have that power, and you’re using it in such a meaningless way. It’s an amazing power to have. Why not put out there a real message? Why not use it to bring good, to say something interesting, to bring, to add something. To contribute.

Did your work at Harpers Bazaar influence the work you did for NARS?

I am not sure, I never thought about that. Bazaar didn’t look like NARS to me. Bazaar was more like feminine, elegant and certain. It was that Didot typeface, it was softer… NARS was very pure, minimal, in your face. But ultimately I approached both with an idea to change the rules of the industry and breakthrough. It’s got to be “Wow!” It has to be different.
So with NARS, at that time, if you looked at the makeup industry, everybody had a little logo, very well written in the middle, in small and gold. You know like super shine, everything was very luxurious, very pretty. The branding was all very tiny and precious. And I said to François, “If we do something, we are going to use the packaging as advertising. You’re going to blast the name on it, you’re going to put your logo so big on it that it’s going to become emblematic.” And that’s exactly what happened. So the logo turned out to be a key element into the success of the brand. It was perfect for them because François also had the same idea the way he was doing colors and naming them. Breaking rules, being less precious, more irreverent. So I think his mind and my mind worked very similarly. It had to be totally out there and different, but still very elegant. And I think that we succeeded at doing that.

It was very successful!

It was quite a breakthrough at that time. The logo on the compact was like a billboard. I wanted you to walk into the store and it jumps off the shelves from afar, with all these graphic white lines. And then when you touch it, that rubberized material was so different…people were just drawn to it.

I think that was a breaking point in the packaging and product design back then, within the industry.

And truth be told, the packaging itself was stock and already existing—shapes that plenty of other brands used. It’s interesting that a logo and a surface texture can change the perception so much.

And this is what I wanted to talk to you about. We are now sitting here because I think that we both agree that the NARS logo and the packaging is still relevant, still present and holding the core values that you gave it. I wonder if it will be the same for these new companies that are emerging?

I have no idea. It could be a quick buck. Quick money is always good money. I mean that’s one kind of mentality. I think there are some people who do things because they have a belief and they have a conviction. And their primary reason for doing something is that conviction—not because of the fruits they might get from that tree. And then there are these other people that think “I am going to make a tree that makes a lot of fruits,” and that’s it. I am not that type of person. I am more into the convictions and the passion. If it gives me money, great, but if doesn’t, that’s fine too. I mean it’s a different way of thinking. If I would receive tomorrow morning all the money in the world, billions of dollars, but they tell me “You can not take another picture, this is it.” I will say, “You know what, you can keep your billions and I will still do my pictures” because it’s more important to me. I think what you have in your heart, what you feel and the emotions when you create are more important than the money.

Going back to the topic of the celebrity-based makeup companies that have been very successful. Focusing on a maximalist approach, they have been able to ‘hit the jackpot’, some of them making millions in the span of a week, something unheard off until now.

Like whom?

Fenty Cosmetics by Rihanna. She made millions in one week, which no other beauty company has been able to do up until now in such a short time. Also, KKW by Kim Kardashian. Where do you think this leaves the more traditional makeup brands within this scenario?

It’s really tough. Number one, it says that maybe the classic beauty brands are too conventional and that people are willing to go for unconventional. Consumers are responding to something more unexpected. So maybe traditional companies should, within the tradition, be a little more playful and a little bit crazy and a little bit more out there. The thing I like the least about the beauty industry is that they don’t like to take risks.

Why do you think that is?

FB: Because it’s the investment and they think too much. They just think too much. It’s only make-up.

So you think that is what differentiates now the up and coming brands…

Yeah, because they don’t think about it. They just want to do it, so they do. It’s like “I like this color” and that’s it. There is no point in discussing “The red is like this, we need to convey the feeling of this red because we made a study, and we need to market to that bracket”, ta, ta, ta, ta. The minute you start doing all that shit, yes you can make money—but I think you’ll never make as much as bang as somebody that goes with their balls and their gut. You have to go with your gut. And it’s very difficult for the big companies because they have a lot of brands. And they have to sustain, sustain, sustain. It’s very difficult.

Do you think the new makeup companies have sent a message to the more established beauty companies?

Well I hope so, but let’s see how long they are going to last too. Maybe it’s the flash in the pan. Who knows, maybe in six months from now it’s like Instagram, on to the next page.

If you had to design a makeup line today what would be your approach?

Argh! I don’t know. It depends what it is for. It depends so much on what the subject matter is, what the brand is. But I think people should experiment a little bit more.

Experiment more?

Everything is so middle of the road and safe, repetitious. Everybody repeats the same thing, this one a little bit more black, this one a little bit more gold. But it’s the same nonsense. And at the same time they put a lot of effort into that when actually, maybe people don’t care that much. Because a lipstick, is a lipstick, is a lipstick, eh? You have to deal with it on that level. Like all the fonts they kind of look the same, all the computers they kind of look the same, all cars they kind of look the same. You have to accept that. Some people are constantly on that search for the thing that does not exist. It doesn’t exist because it does not work. (Smiles)

But what do you do then when you want to stay ahead of the others?

I think it’s about looking at every layer, to create the full picture. A product with unique elements, packaging that stands out. It’s in the communications layer, in the display, in the way you send your emails, in the way you do Instagram, and on and on. And when you take the sum of it all, you realize “Whoa, that company is quite different.” If you take just one layer, everything has been done -everything- so the newness is in how you put it all together.

Anybody that you think is doing groundbreaking product design today?

A company in the beauty industry? (Long pause) Not really. Do you?


I’m thinking about Byredo because I like their candles. But it’s not beauty, is it? I like their approach. They do fragrances too at the same time. Everything is one typeface, very cohesive. They don’t try to do too much and it’s quite luxurious.

Do you think there is a formula for a long-lasting product design? When we look at the NARS logo, or when you look at the two C’s of Coco Chanel.

It’s simple. And directness. The Chanel logo, you know exactly what it is. It’s just so uncomplicated and successful. Honestly, if you had never seen it and you were to see it today you would think “Whoa, that’s quite modern”, right? It’s this idea of timelessness.

That’s how I feel about the NARS logo. It transcends time in a way.

Yes, it should, I mean good graphics should. I mean the trends are great, but the trends are just like the salt on top of the meat, no? You need the meat.

Were you following a trend when you designed NARS? Probably not.

No, no. I went to the stores, I looked at everything and I noticed everything was small little letters. Gold, and very precious. You had to squint to see the names. Also, there were lots of initials and I felt like, “Wow!” There is a gap. Nobody had their name on the product in the way that Calvin Klein had his name on the underwear. Nobody was really putting a focus on branding. So that’s what I wanted to do. Make the package a billboard for the brand.

Why overlapping fonts?

Why overlapping fonts? Well, first of all, because it looked different and second of all because the name was not fitting. (Laughter)

Sorry, but do you think in a way that it was an accident?

No, no. I’d been exploring overlapping type for other things. It was at the time where the computer was not so big yet—you could still experiment with the tracking between letters. I realized you could under-track things and make them compress to create a new way of reading things. So when I studied that logo, that’s the first thing I did. Then I re-drew everything to make sure, to make the lines interesting…to cross them in the right places to create interesting white space.

Beauty is personal. I think beauty doesn’t exist, personality exists. And when you call something beautiful is because it has soul, it has personality, it has an emotion and a feeling…

If you were given the NARS briefing today, would you approach it the same way you did 25 years ago?

Yes. Totally.

Even given the current state of beauty packaging?

Yeah, I think so, yeah. I think it would still be successful if we started tomorrow. Maybe I would take a fresh look at shapes—how you apply makeup, the gesture. I think there’s a lot of territory to explore there. The shape of lipstick is still the same as it’s always been…when actually you never see almost any make-up artist using lipstick directly, right? The way they apply it doesn’t match the shape. So maybe I would look at the object itself. Should it be fatter, should it be thinner? Should the angle be different? Should it be dispensable in another way? Should it be more like a marker? That would be interesting.

To me as an artist, some sort of connection has to be established with the subject before engaging in a creative process. This connection as well may happen between an artist and the person that sponsors an assignment. Which may at the end influence that body of work to be created. When it comes to product design, do you think a designer must have a strong connection with the client or can be it be neutral?

You said that because I knew François? I was influenced by his personality for sure. The fact that I knew him, and I knew what he was about—it really became the outline for the concept I developed for NARS. I knew he was a renegade and I knew we could do some renegade things with him. I wouldn’t propose that concept to, you know, like Estee Lauder, they would have laughed at me. So, yes, it’s good to know who you are working with. A connection is good and understanding your subject matter is important.

How did you meet François Nars?

Well, we worked together with Steven Meisel. We were in the studio together all the time.

So you had a strong relationship with him?

Oh yeah and he was fun. He was French and we were having a laugh all the time. And he said one day, “You know I am going to do my line.” I said, “Yes sure.“ (Laughter) He said, ”No, no I am going to do my line”, I said, “Are you for real?” And he came and he said, “I am going to do it, look, look, these colors, I am going to come out with six lipsticks, this is the test I’m doing.” Oh wow, he is very serious. So I did one proposal.
I said “I know exactly what you have to do. We are going to make the logo huge.” And I went to my computer and I did the drawing. And he said “Oh! That’s great!” Two days later it was done and we gave it to him. He said, “I love it!” Done, (hands rubbings motion) finish! It was that simple. I promise you it was that simple. It just worked.

OK, just to finish, can you define beauty for me?

Beauty is personal. I think beauty doesn’t exist, personality exists. And when you call something beautiful is because it has soul, it has personality, it has an emotion and a feeling and that’s what beauty is for me. So if that is true, what I am saying, that means there are no rules. And all the rules set up by the beauty industry, they are momentary. Right now they are ingrained in the way we think about beauty — but they’re not what really beauty is. You find beauty everywhere—it just depends what spin you put on things. So I mean beauty is a very, very big word. And I am really attracted to beauty—that broader definition of it.

Are you seeking always beauty in your work? It’s your main…

It needs to appeal to the eye, yes. When you look at it even if it’s disturbing, it needs to have that pleasing factor. You know, beauty is pleasing. Everything that human beings like ultimately comes down to beauty. Architecture, monuments….you look at it and has to be beautiful. When you have an amazing sky with amazing clouds… it’s beautiful and you are mesmerized by it. Beauty is mesmerizing. And is very attractive, it attracts the human being.

It’s a connection?

Yeah, there is a connection for sure. It’s a search, right? And you don’t have to be…perfect. I know a lot of perfect people that don’t inspire beauty to me. It always needs to be something a little bit more than just the surface.

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