Fashion’s Hidden Figures: Meet the Man Who Shaped Dior Beauty in the 1960s

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With Bella Hadid arriving in Dubai today to promote the new Dior book The Art of Color, Savoir Flair takes a closer look at one of the book’s main subjects: Serge Lutens.


book cover DIOR ART OF COLOR
Photo: Courtesy of Dior

While flipping through Dior’s new book The Art of Color, which celebrates the brand’s inventive and influential obsession with colors, the most arresting moments are derived from Serge Luten’s beauty looks. As Dior Beauty’s first image director in 1967, Lutens was tasked with creating a line of makeup for the brand and capturing its essence with smoldering, macabre campaigns.

On the fashion and beauty landscape, Lutens is an anomaly of genius among pretenders. Although he is rather reclusive, he has been known to give the occasional interview, and those rare glimpses inside his world reveal a singular creative vision that has not only helped shape the identities of Dior Beauty and Shiseido, but also extends to photography, perfume creation, art direction, filmmaking, and more. He revolutionizes every medium he touches because of his insistent curiosity and determination – a legacy that has earned him a primary position as one of beauty’s most intriguing “hidden figures”.

Serge Lutens
Photo: Courtesy of Serge Lutens

Lutens’ penchant for Kabuki theater is one of the most distinct aspects of his work. His women are haunting, with strong visages finished to preternatural perfection, yet exaggerated in order to disguise their true face. Beauty as a facade had never been rendered in such alien terms until Lutens. Startling shots fill the pages of Dior’s The Art of Color, depicting Lutens’ handiwork: severely drawn eyebrows, blank porcelain skin, and lips dark and unsmiling. The hair is nearly always scraped back against the skull and, at times, the model’s features are either wildly exaggerated with geometric accents or finely erased.

This is not the vision of Dior beauty that you know and love now, but that’s because global beauty definitions have radically changed since Lutens’ time at the helm. Where his strange beauty was once the very hallmark of untouchable Couture back in the day, beauty demands in 2017 revolve around a new standard. Today, women are obsessed with a homogenized look: plumped lips, high cheekbones, and thick and arched eyebrows – all aided with the help of elaborate contouring methods.

Dior Serge Lutens
Photo: Courtesy of Dior

Beyond his influence in the fields of beauty and fashion, Lutens has had a remarkable – and remarkably diverse – career. In 2017, he is known primarily for his work with perfume and has made an indelible imprint on the field of perfumery with legendary scents like ‘Tubéreuse Criminelle’, ‘Cuir Mauresque’, and the astonishing ‘Section d’Or’ collection. The latter is crafted at a home laboratory within Lutens’ secluded villa in Marrakech, with him transmuting memories and feelings into each carefully articulated scent. It’s no wonder that he was given the FiFi Award four years in a row (2001-2004) by The Fragrance Foundation.

Additionally, Lutens has won many awards and accolades for his visionary art direction, including two Lions d’Or at the International Advertising Film Festival for various campaigns. He also dabbled in filmmaking during the 1970s, showing his two short films Les Stars and Suaire in 1976 at the Cannes Film Festival. Lutens’ sinister but alluring vision of beauty can be seen through his own lens in his two photography books Espirit Serge Lutens: The Spirit of Beauty (1992) and Serge Lutens (1998). Although he is now in his early 70s, Lutens is still a ferocious and intimidating creative mind who deserves to be discovered by a new generation of fashion and beauty revelers.

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