GRAZIA talks to Peter Philips, the Creative and Image Director at Christian Dior Makeup
There’s not really any knowing what lies ahead. It’s a new decade and there’s a new mood. New thought patterns, new waves of expression, new guards and new norms. Beauty is one such industry that’s driven by this newness, be it behaviours, technology, consumer habits or trends.
Over the past ten years, beauty has been picked apart and stitched back together, emerging a more democratic, transparent and innovative version of itself. Some will say there’s still work to be done (and they would be right), but there’s no doubt the industry as it exists is in a constant state of flux. It ebbs and flows, peaks and troughs. But the one constant in all the chaos is a bold, unwavering, intrepid force of creativity. Society often codifies beauty as superfluous or vapid, but when you get to the crux of it, it’s a platform for art, for expression and for creation.
When it comes to dissecting this creativity, it’s only through the far-reaching lens of certain visionaries that we might get a glimpse into the other side, both behind the scenes and beyond the present moment. Here, GRAZIA explores future beauty through the eyes of on of the best: Creative and Image Director at Christian Dior Makeup Peter Philips.
“Makeup is like ice cream,” says Peter Philips over the phone from Paris. “You don’t need it to survive, but it’s very nice to have.” It’s an interesting analogy, but also an unsurprising one given that Philips, the Creative and Image Director at Christian Dior Makeup, has a reputation for being not only one of the smartest figures in beauty, but also the sweetest. Early on, Philips knew he wanted a career that would see him flex his creative muscles. He just wasn’t entirely sure which ones. “I was born in Antwerp. My parents encouraged me to go to art school, so I went to Antwerp Academy. I wanted to be a fashion designer. That was the dream,” says Philips.
The revered conservatoire was known as the incubator of some of the world’s finest artisans and creative forces in fashion and art: Vincent Van Gough, Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten are all reported alumni. “I was 24 when I was called to Paris as a dresser during Fashion Week. We would sneak into other shows, it was my first taste of backstage ad I was like, ‘Oh my god’”, Philips muses down the phone. “I was just an ‘80s kid and it was a party backstage. Everybody was so happy; models were running in late…it was tense but beautiful, a beautiful sense of excitement. That’s when I knew being backstage was where I wanted to be.”
Philips got his degree in fashion design (one of nine graduates) and went straight into the world of makeup – a first at the time. “I did a little course of basic techniques but I didn’t even finish it,” he says. “I had just graduated and in my arrogance I thought, ‘I don’t need to pay money for this, I can do it myself’. At the end of the day, most of what I knew was from watching my mum and grandmother in the bathroom at home.”
Philips worked in a restaurant to save money before a small agency in Belgium agreed to represent him. “I literally said, ‘Hello I’m Peter Philips and I want to be a makeup artist,’” he remembers. “They thought I was crazy.” Three weeks in, he got booked for his first shoot – a mere four days away. “It was two girls, and I realised I was also doing the hair. I said, ‘No problem’ but straight away called my mum and begged her to help me. She called a salon and said ‘My son needs a crash course’. It was such a panic. I learnt to blow dry and set rollers in one day. Apparently, if I could do that, I could do anything,” laughed Philips. “The next day, I went out and bought a dryer, mousse, gel, a comb. I was so stressed out on that job, but the hair turned out wonderfully. Although it took me ages… I had literally 10 minutes to do the makeup.”
From the adrenaline-fuelled adventures of the ‘90s, Philips’ career went from strength to strength. Chanel came calling, but he departed in 2014 to step into his current position at Dior – a post ubiquitous with stellar displays of art in both product development, campaigns and on the runway. The conceptual, clockwork orange razor eyeliner at Dior’s Haute Couture Spring 2018 show? Philips. The hyper-bronzed, brow-skimming shadow at Dior’s Resort show in 2017? Philips. The slash of graffiti-inspired neon green across the male visage at Men’s Pre-Fall 2020 show in Miami? Philips, Philips, Philips!
A visionary in the game of beautiful imagery, Philips approaches his post at Dior with logic and a level head: he sees beauty (for lack of a better word) in the entirety of his work. “It’s not just about being an artist who is creative with colour, there is creativity in numbers, there’s a creativity in mathematics, a creativity in a very rational way and a very passionate way,” he says. “Once that’s settled, I can play.” Take the brand’s newly launched Lip Glow Oil: it hits certain markers like ease of use, universal colour appeal and that feeling of got-to-have-it synonymous with luxury beauty. It’s decidedly Philips and decidedly Dior: functional, all flattering but still an object to be desired.
Similarly, on the runway, it’s never the Peter Philips show, but rather a cog in the far-reaching fashion week wheel: “I consider myself always at the service of the fashion designer. The catwalk is not mine, I am part of an army.” With modesty one of his many attributes, anyone in the beauty industry can attest to Philips’ sense of power when it comes to runway shows: deeply-inspired, interesting, resourceful looks (like the Judy Blame-inspired couture snap eye embellishments at the Dior Men’s Fall 2020 show – “great low budget makeup” he chuckles). He navigates the balance between beauty and fashion with finesse even when, to use Philips’ words, designers “sometimes speak in riddles”. Such is fashion!
For the man who eschewed a prestigious fashion diploma for beauty, it’s safe to assume his heart is in his work. “I am very passionate about what I do, what I know is a craft, what I do is a craft,” he says. “People always refer to it as an art, but I see it more as a craft because you work with your tools. You use your creativity, but to do this is not just a creative or fun pursuit… it is a practical thing.”
We’re now closer to 2050 than we are to 1990, so how has the world of beauty and art according to Peter Philips changed since those days cutting teeth in Antwerp? “Everything is different except for one thing. People still want to feel beautiful,” he says, before adding, “When I started out, I felt a little like a therapist. Makeup was a problem to be solved. I had to provide solutions. People were scared and not properly informed. But through social media, beauty has become more democratic. More accessible. Foundation isn’t scary. Lipstick is not just for brides and actresses. People are exchanging their expertise, they’re sharing information – good and bad. It’s a strange time in the world, and I think makeup is a tool to express yourself, which is important. At Dior, we want our message to be the right one. We want our products to be of the highest quality. I see it myself when I wander Sephora. Customers understand. They know what they want, and what they don’t want.”
Philips is thoughtful as we wrap up an hour-long conversation. “I follow my gut. I listen and look, because I don’t design for myself,” he says. “I have to keep my eyes and my ears open and be alert and see what’s happening.” His closing words are some of the best I’ve heard when it comes to wrapping up an old decade and ushering in a new one: “At the end of the day what we do, our business, we don’t save lives. Beauty is a luxury! And for me, beauty is an absolute pleasure… just like ice cream!”