Sarah Moon for NARS Witching Hour Kohliner, $29
Things are not always what they seem with the French photographer Sarah Moon. An elegant whisper of a woman in her mid-70s, she gives off a quiet intensity, seemingly mirrored in the strand of stark metallic beads fastened around her neck. “Flea market!” she explains with easygoing warmth. “They’re good, and they’re light!” Such juxtapositions—of fragility and strength, distance and approachability, the everyday and the sublime—are one of the beguiling characteristics of Moon’s photographs, which serve as enduring inspiration for so many in the fashion industry. After working as a model in the ’60s for the likes of Guy Bourdin and Irving Penn, Moon soon carved her own path behind the lens, creating a stream of iconic images, including Art Nouveau-inflected campaigns for the trailblazing London boutique Biba, light-dappled vignettes for Cacharel, and early Comme des Garçons work in full-force color. Next month, the photographer brings her otherworldly eye to a new project—and, even better, to packaging—with a limited-edition cosmetics collection for NARS, launching October 15.
The collaboration with makeup artist François Nars (himself a photographer) was something of a meeting of the minds, even if the two were freshly acquainted. “It was like I’ve always known him,” Moon says of their shared perfectionism and openness to unconventional iterations of beauty. That plays out in the campaign’s casting: the doe-eyed Codie Young alongside Anna Cleveland, who has an “extraordinary face—a painter’s face,” remarks Moon. With unmarred porcelain skin acting as the canvas, the models wear translucent helmets and corsets, like superheroines dressed for an Ice Age remake of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, with matte crimson lips, soft-focus smoky eyes, and oxblood nails providing the only hits of pigment.
“Color, it’s really a communicative language,” explains Moon, referring to film, though she might as well have been addressing the expressive potential of eyeshadow. “I love black and white because it gives a distance to reality and allows a lot of different lighting. Color is light itself—it dictates.” Judging from this collection, that might be a loud statement (as in the Fearless Red Moon Matte lipstick) or a soft-spoken one, achieved with the blush-nude shade of Audacious lipstick, aptly named Sarah. While you won’t find the photographer with bold-colored lips (“I love it on others,” she is quick to add), Moon had plenty of experience with self-application during her modeling years: “Very often we had to do our own makeup—you had to go around with a big [cosmetics] trunk!”
That hands-on experience proved to be a fitting entrée into a world of fashion and cosmetics campaigns, beginning with Barbara Hulanicki’s Biba. “It was really the thing,” Moon recalls of the boutique’s magnetic appeal. “We were going to London and getting Biba stuff!” The two women shared a love for silent-era screen stars, like Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, and they played off those references by setting models’ pale complexions against moody backgrounds. Decades later, a similar notion of beauty—at once riveting and ephemeral—carries through to the NARS images. Moon often refers to her work as fiction, and she casts an eye for that narrative element on set. “When I work, ultimately, I don’t think—I react. What you’re looking for is something emotional. It’s what makes you kick,” she says of her take on the decisive moment. With cosmetics, though, real-world authenticity is just as important. “That’s what makeup is about: It has to be you, and yet it has to be daring,” she muses. Her new NARS pieces—including a three-piece touch-up kit called Non-Fiction, and a cheek and lip palette called Recurring Dare—will have you striking just the right balance between truth and fantasy.