The art of Makeup
Peter Phillips’ makeup is truly an art. He knows how to transcend the restrictions imposed by the industry while acknowledging the needs of the customers. His talent, discipline, and quest for perfection helped him quickly climb the highest peaks of the luxury universe.
By Stéphane Le Duc
In 1993, he graduated in graphic design from L’Académie Royale d’Anvers; 21 years later, he was crowned as Creative and Image Director of Christian Dior Makeup. He is the brain behind the makeup collections and also worked on an impressive number of editorials with some of the most renowned photographs, such as Mert Alas, Marcus Piggott, Nick Knight, and Richard Burbridge. He often collaborates with his friend and compatriot, Raf Simons of Dries Van Noten for fashion shows, and, until recently, with the late Karl Lagerfeld who instantly noticed his tremendous talent. He is admired both for his audacious creations and his ability to master subtle and elegant makeup.
It is backstage of Dior’s fashion show that we met up with an amazingly calm and humble man, in the height of his creativity.
As a makeup artist, does high fashion have a special meaning? I think that at a certain time, it used to be more defined. High fashion and prêt-à-porter had different looks. Now everything is mixed up.
Concerning the Dior fashion shows, do you and Maria Grazia Chiuri exchange a lot? It depends, from one collection to another. A month or so before the fashion show, she usually sends me some references. Last year, in certain cases involving a very elaborate eyeliner, we discussed it a lot. Same with the hatter Stephen Jones, because the models were wearing veils. We had to find a balance between the clothing, the accessories, and the makeup. Sometimes, it comes really quickly.
You’ve known Raf Simons since he started at Dior. Today, you are working with Maria Grazia Chiuri. Any differences between these two? Tons of differences. I am used to working with a lot of different creators: I worked with McQueen who was very unique, Dries Van Noten who has a very special style. They are fashion creators, not makeup artists, and it’s interesting to hear how they talk about it. Maria Grazia talks about it like a woman who wears makeup, but it was totally different from Karl Lagerfeld who was drawing it. Dries explains his collection with prints. For example, there was this fashion show where we worked with colourful lashes. The process was very interesting because we got to see all the green and red feathers in his collection. He asked me if I could use the feathers for lashes. I said, ‘Yes, but we have to be careful.’ Too little, and you see nothing; too much, and it’s Las Vegas! We [did] some tests and decided to use coloured lashes with a feather-like effect. It was all inspired by his creations, such as the makeup with Swarovski crystals or by his crystal accessories. It is really a continuation of his clothing creations. Each creator has his own vision and approach when it comes to makeup.
Is it the fashion shows that inspire your makeup creations for Dior or is it the contrary? It’s not really defined. I would say it’s more of a mix. For example, for one of Raf Simons Men’s collection, I had done smoky eyes. It gave me ideas to go further [with] black matte for Dior. When I see makeup in a different context, it inspires me for what’s to come. However, sometimes fashion shows are not the place to experiment [with] makeup, but there are so many other platforms to experiment, such as editorials, projects with artists, product creation, or even when you do your friend’s makeup before going out.
Have you been a perfectionist since the very beginning? Yes, I’ve always been and especially when it comes to makeup. When you work on eyes and lips and on the face, you really have to get into the details. Even when you are working on audacious projects, you have to know what you’re doing. You have to know your products. Your base must be perfection. For example, I once did photos with extremely red pigment for a magazine. It was freestyle but I had made several tests prior to the event. The powder had to be on point; it had to be a good shade of red. Even if the last step was a splash of colour, I had tested everything in advance and had done precise research. That’s what you need to achieve perfection.
“WE CAN’T WORK THE WAY PEOPLE WERE WORKING ten years AGO, ESPECIALLY IN A MAKEUP INDUSTRY IN constant evolution. YOU HAVE TO STAY AWARE OF WHAT’S GOING ON OUT THERE”
Aren’t you worried by how quickly you have to work on fashion shows sometimes? I have a very good team and, also before a show, model lineups allow us to do touch-ups. For the runway, the makeup doesn’t have to last for 24 hours, so it’s fine. But we have to be careful because sometimes a mistake can happen. A spot on a leg that we have missed can totally ruin the magic.
What does it mean to you to work at La Maison Christian Dior? I love it because it’s a fashion house where I am free to work the way I want. It’s also very dynamic, like all these fashion houses of 70 years and older that had to evolve. As you know, we must move to stay young and remain relevant. We can’t work the way people were working 10 years ago, especially in a makeup industry in constant evolution. You have to stay aware of what’s going on out there. Dior is extremely open to renewing itself and taking risks, and that’s why it still stands today.
What keeps you going in the profession? The never-ending challenges to remain relevant. It’s also a very dynamic universe. I travel a lot, and I meet interesting people. Between the product creation, the fashion shows, and the editorials, it is enough to stay enthusiastic!