Guided by Beauty

An interview with Dior’s beauty addict Peter Philips about his vision, why he loves his job and what makes it so appealing for him. Written by Georgette Koning for Mirror Mirror.

I ask Peter Philips what his average day looks like. “I am busy, busy, busy all the time. It’s a challenge to keep to an agenda,” says the Creative and Image Director of Dior Makeup. Since 2014 the Antwerp-born Philips has overseen not just the creation and formulation of the Dior brand’s globally stocked makeup products, he also creates runway beauty looks for the ready-to-wear collections, couture and pre shows. Throughout the year he also conceptualises and shoots ad campaigns for which he continually travels around the globe. Besides all of the above, the visionary image-maker collaborates with the great Raf Simons, Karl Lagerfeld, Dries Van Noten and others by creating their runways beauty looks.

When the eternally travelling makeup artist is resident in Paris, he works at his huge office situated on the eighth floor in rue de Téhéran, dubbed by Philips ‘the beauty building’.  In the same building you can find the Dior perfume lab and the art direction department. Philips’ downstairs neighbour is Dior perfumer François Demachy. The fashion department, with Maria Grazia Chiuri at the helm, is based at the Avenue Montaigne.

While Peter Philips’ – roguish face, crew cut, talkative - office is in Paris, the Dior laboratories are located near Orléans in an area known as Cosmetic Valley. “Sometimes I go over there, but everybody loves to come to Paris with their suitcases full of samples in response to my briefs.”

As an autodidact I found my way around and my own style

Peter Philips shares his office - ‘it’s messy, but I understand my chaos’ - with two assistants. With one of them he brainstorms his ideas. “He kind of moulds them in a format that’s understandable for other people. (Laughs). He also helps me with my computer. I am not very good with that.” His other assistant takes care of communication and plans meetings and interviews. “This gives me some peace to work on the collections.”

Peter Philips grew up in Antwerp, where his parents run a delicatessen butchery. He says that as a child he was as an outsider. Saturday afternoons he was glued to the tube, whilehis peers preferred to play outside. Even as a young boy Philips was obsessed with Hollywood movies and studied stars like Katherine Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers who, according to him, all looked fantastic.

My vision does not just stop at the face

Het got another early taste of the fashion world, via his father’s butcher shop that is located close to the prestigious Royal Academy Antwerp, as all kinds of ‘birds of paradise’ went there to get their sandwiches.

Later, as a young fashion student at the acadamy, Philips looked up to Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten, who he used to see walking around school. He closely followed the careers of the Antwerp Six and will work with them later.

After his graduation in 1993, Philips started as a self-taught freelance makeup artist. In between jobs he experimented a lot working with former classmates, the now famous stylist Olivier Rizzo and top photographer Willy Vanderperre. “I started rather late focusing on being a makeup artist, I had no knowledge or experience. Until recently my makeup remained very graphic. I did a lot of masks and applications. I did tons and tons of really experimental and very graphic makeup on men at a time when nobody did makeup on men. As an autodidact I found my way around and my own style. I think that is also what attracted the people that asked me to become their creative director.”

In 2008 Philips was approached by Chanel, where until 2013, he was responsible for a string of successes - including Rouge Coco. In 2014 he joined Dior.

What is it that makes you love your job?

“Versatility. I have a broad portfolio. My vision does not just stop at the face. Why I love my job, and what makes it so appealing for me, is that I am actually involved in creating a product from scratch. It starts with my own ideas, which I share with my marketing team and laboratory. After seeing its development and use, I can tell the story about how it evolved and make visuals around it. Yeah, it’s the whole process that I love from the beginning to the end.”

Today the media launch makeup artist as stars. How do you cope with that?

“When I started in Belgium I could not even register myself as a makeup artist because the job was not recognised. I was registered as a stylist.

“I never went into this craft to become a star, I just love doing makeup. I remember when there were no interviews backstage, or maybe occasionally for a local newspaper. That changed when Fashion TV started filming backstage. It really annoyed me: ‘leave me alone I’m doing my job’!  But I learned to live with (it).”

Isn’t it also a positive thing that the world of beauty is more open?

Well actually I really appreciate the fact that openness made beauty very democratic, very accessible. When I was young I loved the fact that backstage was an exclusive and almost an elite place. Now it has opened so many doors for so many people and pushed creativity. Because the whole world is watching you have to be innovative. It’s a fascinating sign of the times and it reflects what is happening at this moment.”

When joining Dior, what did you know about Christian Dior in relation to makeup?

“As a former fashion student I knew how he reinvented luxury after the Second World War. In that really dark period Dior did not only show beautiful dresses, he literally perfumed the catwalk with Miss Dior and created lipsticks almost from day one. He was more than just a dressmaker. Dior had a complete beauty vision for women by adding accessories, perfumes and makeup.

“Most important for me is the fact that Dior stood for a new look.  The New Look concept is something that has been evolving and that gave every Dior creator after Christina Dior died in 1957 the possibility to really use the Dior platform to create their own new looks. This is true for all his successors: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. Each and every one of them have there own style but they still are Dior, because the new look is the DNA of the house. Maria Grazia has a more feminine approach than Raf Simons who was more conceptual. Galliano was bolder. You could say that he was literally inspired by the Gruau campaign drawings.”

 You mention Gruau who illustrated so many legendary Dior campaigns. Did he inspire you?

“When creating one of my first palettes, a blush palette which I think was only released in Asia. I actually used a typo that you can find in one of Gruau’s drawings he did in the seventies. After Dior passed away Gruau kept on working for the house. His drawings are amazing, timeless.”

You also have a graphic design background which I suppose comes in handy?

“In the eighties I studied graphic design at Sint-Lukas in Brussels and had a great education. I learned more than graphic design. Before the computer (laughs), everything was manual. I learned photography and developing pictures, set building and how to do light. I designed stages, composed campaigns and screen printed. In only one day I had to make ‘flash’ campaigns for a certain product including advertisements for newspapers and billboards. I learned how to be alert and creative. It has always helped me in my job as creative director and when doing shoots.”

How do you translate your Dior makeup vision into actual makeup, ad campaigns and shows?

“They all require a different approach. For my makeup collections I work almost a year or year and a half ahead. I get inspiration mainly from the concept of beauty itself – of women and beauty.  I want to make collections that are creative, but at the same time useful. So it is nice to find the balance between a beautiful collection with a creative aura, but that at the same time offers beauty products that guarantee beauty.  It’s not just about spectacular or funny shades, but also about a woman being able to find an eye shadow palette that guarantees beauty. So collections are not guided by fashion, but purely by beauty.”

How about the Dior beauty campaigns?

“I work from a beauty point of view and I also try to respect the vision of the fashion department. This week I shot the Dior spring summer 2018 ad campaign so it was about anticipating and following my guts. I question myself: what will be in sync with the vision of the designer as well as what is going to happen with the perfumes. And, of course, I think about my own vision.

“I always keep in mind that the Dior beauty woman is not necessarily exactly the same as the Dior fashion woman, who has a much broader range. The Dior beauty woman loves our vision on nude and color, but she is also kind of hard to describe because she is so multifaceted - less rigid then some other houses, very broad. If you go to a Dior counter you’ll see women of all ages from very young to more mature, from very discretely stylish understated looks, to very bold and colorful personalities. That’s the strength of our house and that is what my vision on beauty has to underline.”

And when doing shows?

“I am totally at the service of Diors’ creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri. It’s not the Peter Philips show! I’m always at the service of the designer’s vision. I understood this right away when I started. My big advantage is my fashion background. I know how passionate designers are when they want to tell their story. The first time I ever did a show in Paris as a makeup artist – it was for Oliver Theyskens – I knew straight away that I was there to enhance his vision and make it even stronger.”

Do they also want you to experiment?

“Of course! That’s why I am booked. I don’t necessarily get a makeup briefing. Designers tell their story and then I have to use my creativity and my expertise to help them complete a certain image.

“When Maria Grazia talked about her first Dior ready-to-wear collection, she wanted to put forward a young girl, a younger woman. I was very much inspired by her casting of lots of boyish girls and the way she talked about beauty and pureness. The Dior Haute Couture show SS 2017 showed the same type of girl: very glowy, lubricated skin, healthy looking. As an ‘accessory’ I applied stars in the corner of their eyes. Some girls looked more ‘fantasy’ with stardust over the face, others more punk with a black star in the inner corner of the eye, or dreamy with silver or gold stars under their eyes.”

Your profession has evolved thanks to social media: I remember a cute stop motion movie you did for Chanel in 2011.

“The first film I made for Dior’s digital platform was a never ending loop around Rouge Dior. I used 8 Rouge Dior lipsticks, because 8 was Christian Dior’s lucky number and 8 is a never ending loop. The movie shows a close up of a mouth that says in a very seductive – like how a hostess announces your flight is delayed – ‘Rouge Dióóór’ in sultry French and Japanese. Very funny.”

You just turned 50, how does that feel?

“Haha what do you think? I like to say… in a way it is strange, the number does not fit how I feel in my head. Of course physically I feel it and I really have to go to the gym because if I only look at a piece of pie I gain two kilo’s. A nightmare! Luckily I quit smoking many years ago. How do I still stay focused? My job is very varied. The shoots are so much fun, I work with different photographers… It kind of keeps me young. I work with models who are 17, 18 years old. I really stay in touch with the young kids. All the time I meet so many interesting people.”

 You’re very ambitious in your work, but is there something else you want to do?

“There is one thing, I still did not find a way to get more time for myself. More ‘me time’, spend time with my family. I am still too addicted to beauty. But maybe I should consider doing shoots as ‘me time’ because I truly enjoy shooting, it is almost like a hobby for me.”

So what is the downside of your job?

“There’s always pressure, though luckily I can easily switch off my makeup obsession. When I come home, and put my beauty case aside, I don’t even think about work any more. That must be my strength. I can easily switch the beauty button off and can intensely enjoy the few moments I am free. It’s easy to recharge.

“I realise that I am very fortunate and count my blessings every day. I’ve been very lucky in the choices I made.”

This article is published in Mirror Mirror. You can order your copy in the shop of this site.

The book Dior, the Art of Color features imagery from each of the three makeup artists who have worked with Dior through the years: Serge Lutens, Tyen, and Peter Philips. €110. Rizzoli.