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making faces :: let's talk about this nars guy thing

i'm late, i'm sorry.

i say that phrase all the time, but it's the first time i feel the need to apologise for my tardiness here on my blog, because the fact is that i'm about to discuss something that's already been discussed and review things that are already somewhat hard to find... i am truly sorry. you can't see my lack of sarcasm, but i assure you, it's there.

you still love me, right?
this holiday season, which starts in october at retailers, never in advance of november for me, but certainly before the sixteenth of december for everybody, nars has released a collection that is about as holiday-friendly as i am. it's inspired by the work of fashion photographer guy bourdin, who in turn inspired francois nars as an impressionable youth.

bourdin's photography is graphic in every sense- he uses stark imagery and bold colour, but often the scenes presented are violent and shocking, in contrast with the haute couture beauty of his subjects. this propensity towards violence, particularly violence towards women- the objects of his lens/ eye- makes him controversial as an inspiration and as an artist. some would argue that bourdin wasn't an artist at all, since the commodification of women's bodies in order to sell fashion [or cosmetics] is usually perceived as a crass commercial venture rather than something artistic. there are fashion photographers whose work is seen as having artistic merit [including bourdin's contemporary, helmut newton], but that merit is often spoken as if an asterisk is appended to it- it's not really art. and those whose work is generally considered as at least being "art-influenced" aren't nearly so difficult to confront as bourdin.

bourdin for vogue magazine
there does seem to be ample evidence that bourdin's relationship with women was troubled. and that bourdin was troubled. and that he was involved with some women who were troubled. psychologists could have a field day with the man's history. i'm not going to go into details, but it has all the elements of an inter-war tragic novel. or a 70s/ 80s video nasty. both, really.

the extent to which bourdin's personal life bled into his work [yes, i chose that phrase carefully] is unknown and it's unknown because the man himself chose to remain largely unknown [unknowable?]. there are stories of his mistreatment of women with whom he worked, but likewise tales of successful working relationships, like the one he had with the editor of french vogue for many years.

stylistically, he is clearly influenced by the work of man ray, another iconic photographer whose images tended to present women as fetish objects, parts without a whole, as decorative. the added elements of violence and alienation definitely give a more chilling air and bourdin's work is highly dependent on clear, saturated colour, whereas man ray worked in black and white, but you can see the parallels between the two photographers.

bourdin for vogue
nars have chosen to wave off the controversy that their choice of inspiration caused and, indeed, while there was definitely some negative reaction, their approach seems to have been largely successful. after an initial flare-up of critical voices, things largely seem to have settled. indeed, the products seem to have been special enough that they've generated not only praise from others, but have sold out in many locations. they are still available in some stores and online at nars' web site, so i figured there'd be no harm in posting a review, despite being tardy to the party.

in the interests of having money left to buy presents for people who aren't me, i limited myself to a few select products. limiting myself still meant taking advantage of the sephora 20% off sale and a couple of other deals to get the two limited edition blushes and two of the five limited edition lipsticks that came out with the collection. the blushes are in the standard nars formula, but the colours are unique to this collection. the lipsticks, however, are in a new formula, dubbed "cinematic", different than any of those normally offered by nars.

i'm not going to add anything to the literature on nars blushes. they are considered the industry standard for a reason and the two limited edition shades, "coeur battant" and "day dream", live up to every bit of the hype.

"coeur battant" is the more striking of the two, a stark, cool, eye-popping magenta pink that certainly recalls the bold slashes of colour from bourdin's photography. it's always a bright colour, but it can be built up or sheered out according to your needs. i have absolutely no problem achieving a comfortable level on my skin, which is paler than average. the intensity of the pigment means it's going to be a bright, cheerful colour on every skin tone, from palest to deepest. i do think that the cool tones in it are going to make it more friendly on those who have a neutral to cool undertone. i just don't think that "coeur battant" is going to be able to connect with predominantly gold, amber or tawny pigmentation. but if you love the shade, you might want to give it a try anyway. it's that nice.

coeur battant
"coeur battant" is almost entirely matte, which means that you really get the full effect of the pigmentation. for such an intense shade, i found the application to be almost unbelievably even- it doesn't even seem like a powder it's so smooth. this makes the product very fuss-free, of course, because you won't have to worry about balancing parts that didn't get enough colour with parts that got too much. it doesn't kick up any dust, either, which is good, because i have a feeling that any residual powder would stain whatever it landed on.

there are other magenta blushes available, but it's hard to beat the quality of this one. it was most similar to the limited edition mac shade "her blooming cheek", which has more shimmer and is neither as bright nor as blue. "her blooming cheek" is a fine blush, so it really says something that "coeur battant" outperforms it to such an extent.

l to r :: coeur battant, mac her blooming cheek [l.e.]
on the other end of the scale, you have "day dream" [yes, that's how they spelled it]. i don't mean on the other end of the performance scale, by the way, because "day dream" is likewise a beautiful blush to work with. but unlike "coeur battant", it's a soft, delicate colour, the perfect way to achieve the peachy perfection of the acres of skin shown in bourdin images. it's a light coral-pink shade that is going to work primarily on light complexions, cool and warm.

day dream
"day dream" is a reliable home run, being the sort of shade that instantly adds life to light skin, without adding drama. it's the kind of colour you can wear every day and many do. as a result, it's not terribly difficult to find similar blushes: nars own "deep throat" is close, just a little deeper and more pink/ red. the much-coveted mac blush ombre "ripe peach" is deeper and more orange. i don't own nars "orgasm", but it also seems similar, probably deeper and more orange as well and with a distinctive gold sheen.

l to r :: mac ripe peach [l.e.], day dream, nars deep throat
i do find that the warmth of "day dream" makes it look quite different from "deep throat" on my skin. "deep throat" looks like i have a slight natural flush. "day dream" gives me a smooth peaches and cream kind of look. it's an absolutely perfect accompaniment to neutral eyes and a bold lip, as well as to a smoky eye. basically, it's the sort of subtle touch you want when there's a clear centrepiece to your look. it's also a phenomenal way to make your skin look healthy when cold weather, high winds and bad indoor air circulation have conspired to leave you a little ragged.

for the lips, the new "cinematic" lipsticks from nars offer an opaque, creamy finish that has more sheen than the traditional satin lipsticks nars offers. i picked up two shades and the formula on both is very consistent. it's very lightweight, but still emollient. it applies creamy and shiny, but the shine fades relative quickly, leaving an even stain in its wake. like a lot of creamier formulas, i felt like the wear time was less than drier formulas, although the stain is fairly persistent. i like the cinematic lipsticks, but i'm also a huge fan of nars regular formulas and i'd classify this one as "different" rather than "superior".

of the two shades purchased, my favourite is "goodbye emmanuelle", a fairly bright, cool pink that i naturally think of [not just because of the name] as "porn star pink". it's eerily unnatural and undeniably eye catching. for a shade that isn't shockingly bright or dark, it is likely to stand out on virtually any complexion, which makes it a nice alternative for people who want something that has an effect, but who don't want a lip shade that broadcasts its presence.

goodbye, emmanuelle
because they can be tricky to wear, i don't have a lot of cool pinks in my collection. i thought mac "sweetie" might be similar, but it's much sheerer and looks almost brown in comparison. mac "milan mode" is closer, but it's also semi-translucent on the lips and has a lot of shimmer that doesn't quite show up in the photo. [you can get a better look at it here, on day ten.]

l to r :: goodbye emmanuelle, mac sweetie, mac milan mode
the second shade i bought is "last tango", which is kind of the lip stick equivalent of "day dream". it's an understated brown-plum-nude kind of shade, again, the perfect companion to either a natural look or a deep, smoky eye. it's a lovely colour, although as it fades, it's so close to my natural lip that it almost looks like i'm wearing nothing at all [on my lips]. nude lipsticks aren't necessarily as memorable as bold ones, but they can be a lot more practical. this is a no-brainer for  the office, for days when you feel like being casual but still want a bit of a lift and it makes the transition into night time because it is a slightly deeper neutral, one that i think of as being more of a cool-weather neutral.

last tango
in terms of comparable shades, there are many and chances are that you have some, so it will be a question of how much you like this particular one in this particular formula whether or not you need "last tango". in my collection, i found that nars "bilbao" was more matte and has a fine gold shimmer and chanel "caractere" was deeper and plummier. i missed swatching it, but bite beauty "shiraz" is also somewhat similar, but darker.

l to r :: last tango, nars bilbao, chanel caractere
nars also introduced a new formula of eye shadows for this collection, also dubbed "cinematic". they're phenomenally smooth and pigmented and i passed only because i felt like i could duplicate the shades offered [and because i had to pass on something]. i do recommend that if you buy them, do so at a store where you can have an employee open it for you to check the condition of the product- they seem prone to shattering in transit, which renders them messy, although not unusable.

there are also nail polishes and a wide selection of gift sets available, many with special packaging, including an adorable carry case shaped like a bright red pair of lips.

i feel like this is one collection where i can really see the links between the products and the inspiration without feeling like the association is forced [as i did with last year's andy warhol collection]. the contrasts of colour and flesh are there, the everyday juxtaposed with the exotic. as always with nars, the names hint at the salacious and shocking where the colours can't and give glimpses of the cultural reference points that were used in their creation. no company can compete with nars in terms of building a narrative for a beauty collection, which is what makes the company so perfect for artistic collaborations, rather than ones with hit films or pop stars.

bourdin studio photo
although i think that silence is probably golden for nars when it comes to the controversy around guy bourdin, i would love to hear what francois himself has to say about it now that the dust has settled. after all, many artists have shown themselves to be pretty despicable human beings, especially in their treatment of the most vulnerable people around them. [if you want a chilling example of this, read albert goldman's meticulously researched, brutal biography of john lennon.] the question of whether or not we should continue to value the work of people whose stars rose in spite of [or perhaps because of] their ill treatment of others is an extraordinarily thorny one, but it needs to be said that nars is far from the only person to honour guy bourdin or to use the work of a controversial artist in a lighter, popular context.

for my part, i'm not going to deny that i'm attracted to a lot of bourdin's photographs, in part because i find them troubling. unlike a lot of advertising that i think is purely exploitative of women and the power of sexuality, i do see something deeper, more sinister and more haunting with bourdin. for my part, the collection has made me think about where i draw the boundaries between art, pornography and violence, which is a pretty remarkable thing when you consider it's makeup, normally something dismissed as inherently frivolous [although never by me].

if you are offended by bourdin's work, or by the type of person he was, then by all means skip this collection and let your thoughts be known. however, if you want to indulge, i suggest that you avail yourselves of the products, which are top-quality and also avail yourselves of the opportunity to think about the controversy around the collection and the artist who inspired it.

here is a well-written article from the new yorker about bourdin and of course you can check out his official web site. i have to caution that while i normally recommend wikipedia as a good starting point for investigations, the page on bourdin is embarrassingly bad- devoid of meaningful information, poorly written and fairly biased against its subject.

and finally, here's a look at a couple of the products i purchased in action.

products used

the base ::
marcelle beauty balm "light/ medium"
nars eyeshadow primer
urban decay naked foundation "1.0"
dior firming concealer "010"
nars light reflecting setting powder

the eyes ::
marc jacobs e/s palette "the mod" [pearly white, shimmery soft grey, black with silver sparkle]
illamasqua precision gel liner [black]
hourglass film noir mascara

the cheeks ::
nars blush "day dream" [soft peach-pink]*

the lips ::
nars l/s "goodbye, emmanuelle" [creamy blue-pink]*

photos by guy bourdin were copied from his web site, linked above.

the link to nars web boutique is provided for convenience. i do not have any affiliation with nars and am not compensated for any purchases. some of the products reviewed here are sold out in stores, but you can still find many of them at nars counters and at sephora.


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