“Persona” features portaits of creative icons including Tilda Swinton, Naomi Campbell, Sharon Stone, Bella Hadid, Liv Tyler, and others.
Renowned photographer, beauty mogul, and French makeup legend François Nars “has never sought to hide the imperfections and oddities that give faces their personality, but rather to accentuate them in dramatic and surprising ways,” as Interview magazine puts it.
It was Nars’ work with famed lensmen including Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Paolo Roversi, Bruce Weber, Helmut Newton, Steven Klein, and Steven Meisel, which first led him to get behind the lens.
“Many times Meisel would invite me to look into the camera, and that helped me when I began photographing our [beauty] campaigns,” as he told Vogue. Now with several books to his credit, Nars has collaborated with famed publishing house Rizzoli on a long-awaited, limited edition, new collection of photographs, entitled Persona—“dramatic and provocative portraits of creative figures of all ages that capture the beauty and essence of each subject.”
Shot in color against a rich black background with dramatic lighting, the images “explore themes of provocation, sharp humor, and unconventional beauty, always with an edgy dose of glamour.”
Printed using specialty inks “to produce images in ultra-rich vibrant colors with high gloss,” the collector’s edition features Nars’ portraits of creative icons including Tilda Swinton, Naomi Campbell, Kyle MacLachlan, Sharon Stone, Bella Hadid, Isabelle Adjani, Cindy Sherman, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Marina Abramovic, Liv Tyler, and Christian Lacroix, among others.
Nars’ close friend and muse Marina Schiano, the famed fashion model, stylist, journalist, photographer and jewelry designer, wrote a foreword for the book before she passed away in 2019.
“Talent is a rare gift,” Schiano notes. “It is not given to everyone and it cannot be summoned. And if you have it, you can nurture it. But transforming this gift into a life of achievement—now, that’s an art. François Nars has the gift of understanding a person in the blink of an eye, and he turned it into a life of art.”
How did a young man from southwest France, “raised on the faces of cinema and fashion images and possessing an unfailing dedication and virtuosic eye, become one of the most significant figures in the fashion and beauty world over the past three decades?” she asks.
“As early as 1987, when I was the creative director of Vanity Fair, I was struck by his talent—his supernatural talent—and I kept asking him to work for us, ecstatic that his answer was always yes. But what touched me the most was the deep love, almost a devotion, that François had for his subject, for the woman. In his work, I recognized something so rare, so beautiful, something I deeply admired and had missed for a long time.”
Nars understands that “Photography starts with a gaze. Isn’t that how love begins as well?” Schiano asks. “What I saw in François’s photos [was] extraordinary, and I understood that his work as a photographer was the continuation of a total generosity, spread during all these years he spent making up faces, seeking to reveal the double sublimity that everyone carries within themselves. Loving women, helping them harness the power within them, all while affirming their beauty—what a mission in life!”
Regarding Persona, “I find myself moved once again by the charismatic beauty and vivid humanity radiating from each of these portraits,” she writes.
“Every time I look at them, it is like power rising from the deepest depths, a touching X-ray of intimacy. There is solemnness, humor, sometimes innocence, or the choice of a playful yet mastered coldness.”
“How could you not be touched by the artist’s approach, how he seizes these characters in their uniqueness, their singular strangeness? Each face is a shock, almost an embrace. François knows to capture the precise instant that expresses the being of his subjects in all their originality and peculiarity, as well as the complexity and richness of their personality.”
Schiano also pays tribute to “François’s profound, immense respect for his subjects, which is a prerequisite for such remarkable work; [his] indomitable freedom, which allows for a playful spirit that is so apparent in its audacity… the tangible pleasure this portraitist feels—almost like an anthropologist—while choosing faces, then staging them, [and his] insatiable appetite for the human soul and passion for its form, an assumed aestheticism that is nevertheless carnal and mesmerizing.”
The artist, Schiano posits, “is here for us to learn how to look at things and people in a way that we never would have without him. In the frenzy of daily life, to pause in front of a portrait and be captivated by it, to feel such emotion that it comes to live with us in our minds. It’s an unforgettable encounter.”