Exploring the Surreal Futurism of Sarah Moon x NARS

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Sarah Moon for NARS Get Real Image - jpeg
© Sarah Moon, Courtesy of NARS

As a new cosmetic collaboration between the renowned photographer and iconic make-up artist hits shelves, we examine what lies behind the otherworldly range

The melancholic romanticism of Sarah Moon’s photography is at once beguiling and bewildering. Although she very rarely retouches anything, the porcelain perfection of her models and the fantastical worlds they inhabit are nothing short of unbelievable. Her work has a nebulous, abstract quality that is more closely aligned with Impressionist painting than with the glossy, hyper-real fashion photography which has become the norm. Moon describes her photographic process like a journey through her subconscious, explaining “I start from nothing... I imagine a situation that doesn't exist. I wipe out a space to invent another. I shift the light. I render everything unreal.” Her fluid and dream-like images are like visions of clarity in a stream-of-consciousness, each light-dappled vignette melting into another. She is forever chasing the elusive moment where an image reveals itself, or a certain shape is traced in her mind’s eye: “the curve of the neck, the balance of the hips, the gesture of the hand... it's not always the face that dictates.” Thus, a cosmetic collaboration created under her direction with François Nars, which is explored in a series of enchanting and fantastical images here, is a beguiling proposition.

Starting out as a model in the 1960s for the likes of Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and Irving Penn, Moon took up photography in the early 70s as a hobby, taking pictures of her model friends in their dressing rooms. But her quixotic images soon caught the attention of the fashion elite, and before long she was shooting otherworldly editorials for French Vogue, dreamy campaigns for the Cacharel and colour-saturated work for Comme des Garçons. Perhaps most memorable are her photographs for the iconic London boutique Biba, produced in collaboration with the boutique’s founder Barabara Hulanicki, with whom she shared a passion for the screen stars of the silent era such as Greta Garbo and Lilian Gish.

Over 35 years later, Moon has returned to the theme of silent cinema, drawing on the nostalgic futurism of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to celebrate her collaboration with NARS. In the campaign images, models Anna Cleveland and Codie Young are transmogrified into sultry, soft-focus cyborgs wearing translucent bodices and helmets. Their alabaster forms are set against bleached backgrounds, with their blood red lips, matte plum eyelids and vermilion nails serving as the only shots of colour. In this light, the saturated products they model are an easy sell.

Although Moon and François Nars had never met before embarking on this project, the results of their joint venture expose a striking kinship. Moon never concerns herself with making women appear more beautiful. She doesn’t retouch her images, because she believes her models to be beautiful as they are. The same goes for Nars. Despite the often vain associations of cosmetics, he debunks the notion of make-up as a mask, instead advocating its potent potential to bring out the truth. Both are drawn to unconventional beauty, or “jolie laide” as the French would put it, the kind of beauty that is less to do with natural prettiness and more to do with emotion. Moon often refers to photography as fiction; she endeavours to extract the narrative contained within the image. In a similar vein, Nars sets out to accentuate the natural lineaments and idiosyncrasies of the face. The curve of the neck, the stature of the nose, the slant of the mouth, the twinkle of an eye – these are the stories that NARS and Moon are always seeking to tell, whether through makeup or photography, or both at once. Rarely does a smoky eyeshadow or pigmented lipstick feel as enchanting as those created by their hands – and never before has a cosmetic campaign been quite so captivating.

Sarah Moon x NARS is available from today.