Podcasts Podcasts


Through a series of 8 podcasts, each of them focusing on a specific inspiration and theme,
Serge Lutens opens up about his creative vision, the key experiences in his life and the inspirations he encountered throughout his career, as never before.
Named “RADIOGRAPHIE”, this podcast project is conceived as an audio travel, into his own mind and emotions.


Les épisodes


    Serge Lutens looks back at his conception of makeup and his relationship with painting the face. His way of “staging“ the face – invisible or theatrical, but always instinctive and inspired – made him a legend: the world’s first-ever Makeup Artist.

    00:00 00:00


    What if Serge Lutens' foray into the world of make-up was only an accident of fate? Invited by Dior to develop their first-ever make-up line, the young 30-year-old quickly distinguished himself as a prodigy. In the early 70s, the American press first gave him the title of "make-up artist" and hailed him as a revolutionary. Yet no one could have foretold that Serge would become such an iconic name in the world of beauty of the time.


    For starters, he rejected the feminine ideal projected by the women's magazines of the 50s, which remained straitjacketed and restricted by the norms of a previous era. Unusual techniques were reserved for a handful of professionals and models, while a more utilitarian approach to beauty was peddled to the masses. In short, eyeliners were meant for elongating the eyes and nothing else! But the winds of change were coming. The revolution of 1968 was not yet on the horizon, but the arrival of Lutens at Dior just a year prior promised to turn all notions of beauty on the head. Originally from Lille, Serge took pride in being self-taught, and had an unvarnished and uncompromising vision of beauty. Operating on instinct and with flair, he didn't play it subtle, but dared to go full throttle on colour! Serge chose strong, defined, in-your-face shades, and dared to make make-up visible! The words of Baudelaire's essay 'In Praise of Cosmetics': "Woman is an idol who is obliged to adorn herself to be adored," resonated with him. His make-up would move unprecedentedly from the eyes to the cheeks, and if cracks showed on the face of the model, even better! A clean break had been made, and it was impossible to go back. The destruction of everything that the beauty world held sacred had begun.


    Soon enough, a section of society began to appropriate this way of using make-up. In just a few months, it became a formidable weapon for French feminists, who in the years following the protests of 1968, used it to break free from the outdated prison of the social norms they had long been confined by. Sure enough, Dior's sales soared in this short span of time, and following this resounding success, Serge was put in charge of a series of ad campaigns for the fashion house. With a keen eye for staging, he instinctively knew, better even than trained professionals, how to light a face in striking and bold ways: "It was a rebellious new attitude that I was trying to represent, and I just had to go all out for it. Can you imagine, red, yellow, black and purple on the eyelids? Bodies covered in sequins, make-up going from head to toe, seamless bodysuits, radical haircuts with clear scissor-cut bangs that would blend and become one with smoky eyes". From Paris to New York, women were now swearing by Serge. His bold looks that broke away from established beauty conventions spoke to their own aspirations. They knew very well, of course, that they could not walk out into the street made up exactly like his iconic photos of models with completely white faces. Buying Serge Lutens make-up meant rather adopting a new way of being, a way of shrugging off expectations to just look pretty and keep their mouths shut. It was a way of rejecting the authoritarianism of a society on its way out.  In short, a polite way of telling the world to mind its own business!


    Serge proved to be a versatile artist who was impossible to label. Museums from across the globe began to display his photographs, while the world of cinema tried to sway him, with the Cannes film festival screening two of his short films in 1973 and 1976. Yet, Serge Lutens began to feel a profound sense of weariness. The title of the "greatest make-up artist of the world", which the press attached to his name everywhere, began to weigh on him. He didn't want to be limited by this convenient label, even though it was a source of acclaim. He had bigger dreams for himself. In 1980, this ambition led him to take on the considerable challenge of signing on with the Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido - relatively unknown at the time - to help them expand internationally. Fascinated by Japanese culture, Serge was a Frenchman who had already built a reputation for himself through his prodigious talent. He poured his heart and soul into this new venture. As soon as he took charge, he put an end to competitor benchmarking and began to personally handle colour creation. The ‘Shiseido, by Serge Lutens’ make-up label went on to become a must-have beauty essential in the 80s and the 90s. The technical expertise of the Shiseido group and the perfectionism of Serge Lutens were a match made in heaven.


    Serge was able to make the most of this experience when he founded his own ‘Nécessaire de Beauté’ line in the 2000s. An ode to the minimal, to the invisible to-and-fro between being and appearance. It was not just a product line but a philosophy of make-up in its purest form, with colours presented in cases as precious as Japanese lacquer boxes. A tribute in praise of cosmetics just as Baudelaire had conceived of it: the garb of a woman.  A flesh and blood woman, brought to life through the power of make-up!


    1°) Serge Lutens, you have always rejected labels and titles, yet you have contributed to the creation of the designation of ‘make-up artist’ at a time when no such line of work existed. Does the description resonate with you?

    (05 :51) No, but then again, did Mishima ever see himself in the 'Confessions of a Mask'? I think it's something like that. I make my moves from behind a mask, and in fact, everything that I have accomplished and created through images has not much to do with make-up per se. My quest has always been for the construction of an image, an ideal, if you will. An image that allowed me to take on the world. So, in that sense, it is a mask, a glorious one! Like in those Noh performances, where each actor moves slowly, each action is measured, and where everything from the hand gestures to the movement of the feet carries meaning. The whole thing is an invention. The image is a woman I've invented, which means her every movement and action is precisely calibrated. She must be purely a thing of beauty. And beauty is inevitably an enigma. (06 :59) Almost to a fault. Which is to say, I am both imbued by her and am her greatest spokesperson. I am neither woman nor man, but both. I am both the musketeer and the opponent, there is no separation between her and I. The lines all blur in the end. When I create the image, there is no difference between me and her.


    2°) Through all these years, you've consistently rejected trend books and other benchmarks of reference. Why is that?

    (07 :33) Because I always set the trends, and because others have always taken their cues from me. People began to copy me, even though I didn't set out to do anything of the sort, having never had any formal training of any kind. I did not look for an occupation or a career; that was never my intention. When I was just starting out, I wanted to be an actor, but, you know, it was the 50s - 1956, to be precise - but I didn't decide to be a make-up artist or a hairstylist, or anything. Things just fell into place in that way. My father told me to work at the beauty salon – at the time one obeyed – it seems absurd today that one could just obey someone like that, but such were the times! I followed his orders and did what I had to do. When God wants to punish you, he makes your dreams come true. I wanted to be an actor, but never got to become one, but in the end, things worked out better that way, if you know what I mean. What had to happen, happened. The hand of God, in short.


    3°) When you left Dior, you said that it was because you had developed such an aversion to make-up that you couldn't stop washing your hands!

    (08 :34) Yes, like Lady MacBeth with blood. I was being put to the service of an occupation or a profession that wasn't really what I was after. Make-up began to disgust me when it became a thing in itself. That is, when I became its servant, rather than the other way round, where I was using it to achieve an ideal of beauty, the invention of a woman. Or even for what I wanted to say about this woman, and her lack, because the two are one and the same. In any case, I didn't like that it all became reduced to just a job. Besides, I can tell you, I didn't learn a thing. Nothing at all. Nothing. Everything I did there was a personal endeavour. I won't say that I was self-taught, rather that I was guided and led along. Destiny has been my biggest teacher.


    4°) What is the hallmark of Serge Lutens make-up? What is hidden behind the famous "by Serge Lutens" tagline?

    (09 :37) You know, Serge Lutens is just a name, my birth name, nothing more and nothing less. That is all there is to it.  So how did it get here, what's all this about? Again, I can compare it to 'Confessions of a Mask', what I do today. This woman I have invented is beautiful, not just because of the make-up, but through a whole series of rituals. The various techniques, the way one adjusts and uses one's hands, how one can see beauty somewhere, and see something in need of enhancement elsewhere. I have often distinguished, for example, make-up artists who have the eye, and those who do not have this vision. They simply don't see it.  Some can see, because they allow themselves to.  While some want so much to control everything that they stop seeing anything at all. It's always true, that if you let yourself go and if you give yourself space, only then can you create something. (10 :38) If you want to or must be the one guiding, then you must do so while also letting yourself be guided. That's when you can let beauty express itself. You don't try to control it, you let it shine through. You can do this through the rituals and movements, you sculpt a model, you give her shape. That's what gives beauty definition. It's a kind of sculpture, you need to breathe life into her movements, her gestures, her way of being. She must understand the vision you are trying to express. Make-up dissociated from this image-making does not appeal to me, because I'm interested in the image, not in make-up itself. The same holds true for perfume, by the way. If creating fragrances didn't carry me to the world of words, perfume wouldn't interest me either. These are all just means to an end. They take you by the hand, they guide you and lead you somewhere. I repeat, it really is analogous to ‘Confessions of a Mask’.
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