The Macabre Splendor of Serge Lutens

Posted by Meghan
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Shiseido, American Vogue, March 1985. Photograph by Serge Lutens.

Serge Lutens––makeup artist, photographer, filmmaker, perfumier, master of delicate darkness. He’s the type of person who operates on a creatively visceral level in a way that no medium can contain him. Possessed and enthralled by his own demons, he’s been known to inject a little morbidity into a conversation at the sight of a lull––“Has anyone here ever contemplated suicide?” he’s asked in an interview with Grey, and I doubt that it’s the first time he’s done so. This should give you a sense of the type of energy that infuses his work.

Before the category of makeup artist existed there was a select few artfully experimenting, applying paints and powders to women’s faces and revolutionizing beauty. Serge Lutens is among them, and perhaps the supreme of them all. His work, the makeup, the images, the fragrances, are plagued with the kind of macabre decadence somewhere between a Tamara de Lempicka painting and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Perhaps his sense of princely darkness can be attributed to his childhood. Born in 1942 in the north of France at the height of WWII and separated from his mother at a very young age for her adulterous ways. At age 20 he moved to Paris and began work at Vogue creating hair, makeup and jewelry for the magazine. From there he took a placement at Dior Beauty, then moving on to Shiseido in 1980 taking control of their creative imagery.

At Shiseido Lutens flourished. The Asian market’s taste for the esoteric and the avant garde was fertile ground for his sublimely twisted and stunning creative sensibilities. With Shiseido he made some of his most iconic imagery for print and television advertisements. He’s since gone on to create a range of fragrances and a high end makeup collection both in his own name. What’s remarkable is how little known Lutens is given his role is nearly single handedly sparking the revolution of the full faced makeup in the 80s. The distinctively stark white face and severe lines contrasted with inky lips and dark, smoldering eyes––it was Serge who revitalized this fantasy of makeup’s sinister possibilities for us all.

(L) Serge Lutens with model. (R) Makeup by Serge Lutens.


(L)  Makeup by Serge Lutens, Photo by Guy Bourdin, Jewelry by Van Cleef & Arpels, Vogue Paris, December 1969. (R)  Makeup by Serge Lutens.


(L) Isabelle Weingarten by Serge Lutens. (R) Serge Lutens, 1972.


(L) Photography and makeup by Serge Lutens. (R) Serge Lutens, Shiseido, Elle US, 1993.


(L) Yvonne Sporre for Shiseido, makeup and photography by Serge Lutens, 1984. (R) Photo and makeup by Serge Lutens.

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