Peter Philips is in a reflective mood. Sitting in his colourful suite at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York, the soft-spoken creative and image director for Dior Makeup is pausing to take stock of his impactful – and influential – career. “I never intended to create products; I just wanted to be a makeup artist,” he says, leaning forward against the pull of the cushy chartreuse sofa. “I wanted to do fashion shoots and work on avant-garde projects. I grew into being a creative director, and along the way I discovered all aspects of beauty.”
Chances are you’ve felt the impact of Philips’ boundary-pushing work. He is, after all, the man responsible for making beauty products that sell out faster than you can meekly ask “Can I be added to the wait-list?” In the early days of his career, Philips made a name for himself at a Raf Simons shoot, when he deftly drew Mickey Mouse on the face of model Robbie Snelders for the inaugural issue of V Magazine. The former global creative director for Chanel makeup has worked with photography greats such as Irving Penn, Bruce Weber and Richard Avedon, and his artistic talent is wielded each season at Fendi and Dries Van Noten. Philips joined Dior in 2014. His responsibilities include makeup direction for the couture and ready-to-wear runway extravaganzas as well as conjuring up products for four different makeup collections a year.
In short, his innate curiosity and imagination are boundless. “I tell stories based on my palettes and my collections,” he says. “Since the day I started in makeup, I have never thrown away a product. I even keep empty lipsticks. I also collect little bits of fabric that inspire me, and I tell myself that they would make a magnificent lipstick with the same shine.”
Speaking of magnificent, one of Philips’ biggest impacts was taking the beloved and iconic Rouge Dior lipstick in new directions: matte textures and unusual shades, including grey – which, by the way, flew off the shelves. How does something so subversive succeed? “It’s the people who work on our Dior counters,” says Philips, with a humble shrug. “They love makeup. They got really excited about all the colours and started doing ombrés and gradations, and it caught everyone’s eye. They sold like hot cakes!”
Dior Rouge Dior Lipstick in Montaigne Matte ($43)
Not that there was any other possible outcome. Philips seems to know what makeup women want before we do; he also challenges us to try things we might otherwise reject. (See: grey lipstick.) It’s as if he possesses a magic wand that makes beauty products instantly covetable. Take the new Pro Liner Eyeliner, which made its runway debut during the spring/summer 2017 couture show. Part calligraphy pen and part “if I don’t own this, I’ll die,” it makes precision eyelining a breeze. Or the Forever & Ever Wear Extreme Perfection & Hold Makeup Base, used for the spring/summer 2017 ready-to-wear show, which works like “double-sided tape, gripping the skin and the foundation so it lasts longer.”
Backstage at Dior spring/summer 2017
That particular ready-to-wear show was a big, historic deal. It was the much-lauded debut of Maria Grazia Chiuri, the first female designer to ever lead Dior, and Philips’ first time collaborating with her. Chiuri’s boldly feminist and confident clothing required a look that referenced models in their natural state of beauty, and Philips created a luminous, skin-focused makeup collection. He calls the spring makeup, which features natural-pink lips and a soft eye rimmed with a touch of mascara, “a starting point that plays with the radiance of a natural yet confirmed femininity.”
Backstage at Dior spring/summer 2017
Although this is a new era for Dior, looking back through history is why Paris-based Philips is in New York. Later this evening, he will attend the star-studded launch of The Art of Color, a tome of artistic reference and colour – the kind you’d expect to see sitting atop a Jean Pascaud sideboard with a Kandinsky hanging above. Featuring interviews, art history and images from three of Dior’s creative directors of makeup, Serge Lutens (1967–1980), Tyen (1980–2014) and Philips, the book is a comprehensive reminder of the house’s legacy. Working on this project, Philips says, reconnected him with his roots as an artist. “Audacity, creativity and vision are at the heart of Dior,” he explains. “This is a daring house with unconventional beauty shoots that have been going on here since day one.”
As Philips’ career has evolved, so has the world of beauty. “Now when we talk about the fashion and beauty industries, it’s a big machine,” he says. “There’s a danger that you’ll lose the creative part, that you’ll lose the visionary part. It’s easy to fall back on [chasing] easy sales.” Does that mean he is always focused on the next big thing? He shakes his head. “I don’t try to create the trend. I create products that guarantee beauty.”
The Art of Color is a celebration of glorious, outspoken colour and artistry by Dior creative directors past and present. ($150), at chapters.indigo.ca.
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