The Makeup Magic Behind Dior Beauty: Peter Philips Tells All
Some of the biggest backstage hits—Chanel‘s painterly eyes (Spring 2014), Fendi‘s neoprene eyeliner (Spring 2013), and Dries Van Noten‘s gold-laced lashes (Spring 2014) —can be chalked up to one man: Peter Philips. He’s also the brain behind such sellout hits as Chanel Le Vernis in Jade and the brand’s pearl and lace temporary tattoos. And when the news broke that Philips landed at Dior as the house’s new creative and image director for beauty, I think the angels started singing (or was that just beauty editors squealing with delight?). It’s almost as if his career has come full circle—seeing as his pivotal makeup moment happened on a Raf Simons shoot, during which he drew Mickey Mouse’s mug in perfect scale on a model’s face. “People flipped out,” Philips noted in an earlier interview with Style.com. “They really remember the spectacular things you do, and the pure beauty things they take for granted. I learned a lot from that.” Here, the master of makeup invention provides a sneak peek of what he has in the works, which I expect is nothing short of spectacular.
What is your vision for Dior Beauty?
My personal vision on beauty doesn’t really change. The tools are new for me. My vision of beauty is that I put the woman first—especially individual beauty—and I’m hoping to be able to create palettes and colors and products that will enhance that beauty, but of course be in [step with the] DNA of the house. The Dior woman is like a hyper-feminine woman—she loves color…I’ve got this little one-liner that I always use: All women want to be beautiful, but not every woman wants to necessarily be fashionable, and I keep leading in that. Of course fashion—because this is also a fashion house—is a great locomotive, a great tool to play with, to attract women with, and to tease and to play with, you know? It can push or pull her attention toward a lipstick or a nail polish or a foundation that maybe a girl normally wouldn’t go for. It’s all a game of seduction, and that’s a strong card for Dior.
When you say that all women want to be beautiful but not necessarily fashionable, how do you plan to appeal to the woman who doesn’t want blue latex eyeshadow or glitter?
That’s the whole thing: Dior is known for the bold colors and everything, but they also have an amazing line called Nude, which is basically about that natural beauty. They have great formulas, and the labs are also working on new [ones]. I mean, I’m here now for three weeks, so I’m jumping from one meeting to another and getting to know everybody who works behind the scenes, and I’m blown away by what I’ve seen. I mean, the innovation in the house is so ahead [of the pack]—they’ve got fantastic laboratories. Those technologies and the knowledge they have—it’s great to work with that.
Is there a particular formula that you’re very excited about?
Yes, I actually just got introduced to a new foundation coming out soon, and the first show I’m going to do for Dior will be a Cruise collection in New York in May. I don’t know what the look is going to be but already know which foundation I’m going to use.
Speaking of show season, how closely will you work with Raf Simons day-to-day?
For that I think I’m mainly working on makeup looks for the catwalk, like I did, for example, when I used to work with him at Jil Sander. Of course I’ll be trying to get my new stuff in if there’s a place for it! And of course I’m going to try to make it to work if he wants something specific…if I need to make something especially for him, I will do that. The team behind me is ready to go for it, and they’re all very excited.
I know you’ve worked with him for more than two decades, and he’s really been pushing the envelope in terms of the look the past few seasons, with the gold brows and latex eyes. What is his aesthetic as far as beauty is concerned?
It grew—his aesthetic on beauty really grew. I’ve been doing his men’s shows since the early days, and then we did Jil Sander. He was very uncomfortable with makeup in the beginning because he didn’t want [the models to look like] they were made up, so that’s why we started off with very natural-looking but kind of severe, strong women. He was inspired by Kees van Dongen [for Jil Sander's Fall 2011 collection], and of course there was color in the paintings, so that’s when we started to introduce color, and we started off with a great lipstick—a vibrant shade on the lips. He started to appreciate makeup more and more, which for him is maybe a different thing than beauty. He sees makeup as a thing, which can be used to accessorize or to dress up.
What are you thinking of in terms of creations for the future? Have you already started developing new products?
I’m just starting to breathe and brainstorm. Every conversation I’ve had here [at Dior] has turned into a brainstorming session. Everybody was taking notes, and I had so many questions. I jumped on this [moving] carousel, this makeup train, and step-by-step my input will be seen. It’s not that everything stops now and you start over again.
When will we see your input hit shelves?
The first actual collection is Autumn 2015—still a long way away. But in the meantime, I’m working on a project for Christmas. It’s very exciting because it’s a smaller project, so we can easily fit it in. Of course, for Spring and Summer, the collections are already in the pipeline. I just jumped in and gave my advice on some things that could still be changed if needed.
Will you be working on ad campaigns similar to some of the projects that you did during your tenure at Chanel? I remember very vividly the makeup robots. Will you be doing anything like that with Dior?
That’s the idea, yes. I’m the Creative Director of Makeup and Image, so it’s kind of new for [the brand] as well…My name will be [associated with the product], so I have to stand behind it the whole way. I’m a big fan of visual communication, I love playing with the Internet, making films, and all that stuff—it makes it even more fun and it can make the message you’re trying to pass on much more accessible.
I can’t wait to see what you come up with. You’ve had so many product hits in the past, some of which are still sought after today on eBay. How do you develop those must-haves?
The thing is, I observe a lot and I listen. I travel a lot because of my work. Whenever I do interviews, especially when it’s about launches of products or when I work with beauty editors, they give the best feedback. A beauty editor from Korea will tell you so much more about Korean women and their needs and their desires than, for example, somebody Paris-based who does the marketing research on Korean women. You have true feedback, which is not pushed by any motive other than trying to be beautiful. I think it’s very interesting to get that feedback, and I listen. For example, everybody keeps talking about the nail polishes I did [at Chanel], but it was bound to happen—I just had the tools to play with and I knew there was a desire. I listened to my girlfriends and women that I know—I knew something was going to happen with nails—and just played around with it and wasn’t afraid. It wasn’t a risk—doing a funky new nail shade is not taking a risk—it’s just fun. And then being able to link it with shows gives [the polish] great visibility. When makeup becomes an accessory, it has a reason to exist…And that’s what I think women like, when they get something new in front of them and it’s there for a reason—it’s not just there for the sake of being there. When it has a reason to exist, they will go for it.
Obviously you’ve worked with a very famous French house before. How do you feel working with Dior will differ from Chanel?
The DNA, I mean, it’s totally different. The only thing they have in common is that both are French houses…Everybody is so mysterious about it, the other house, but I had a great time at Chanel. I did what I could do for the house, and it was fantastic to work with them. But if you look at the style of the house, it’s night and day. It’s a totally different type of woman. The codes of the house are different. Like I said, Dior is hyper-feminine, it’s colorful. It’s not that one is better than the other—it’s just different.
Fair enough. In your opinion, what is your beauty signature and how will you bring that to Dior?
Beauty, for sure—and excitement. It’s going to happen through color and formulas. I’m a storyteller—whenever I make a collection, I try to tell a story, and I hope the stories will be exciting.
There’s no doubt I’ll be completely captivated.