The unseasonable cold, gray and drizzle outside on this late June day does nothing to dampen the excitement glowing inside a factory near Orléans, a city in central France. From its metal walkway suspended dozens of feet above a sprawling linoleum floor, the view stretches on rows of cardboard boxes and gleaming machines.
This story first appeared in the August 26, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Below, the whir of conveyor belts keep time with the start-stop clamor of assembly lines staffed by people sporting lab coats, head coverings and clear, protective goggles. It is here, amid white plastic vats containing brightly hued shades of a viscous material and tanks with tubes for color mixing, that all of Dior’s makeup is produced.
“It’s a bit like ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’” beams Peter Philips, creative and image director of Christian Dior makeup, referring to the Roald Dahl children’s classic featuring a visit to a manufacturer of magical sweets confectioned by supernatural creatures.
But whereas Philips’ gentle, congenial nature makes him most like the novel’s protagonist, it’s his wild imagination and well-honed savoir-faire that draw a parallel to Willy Wonka, the chocolate factory’s madcap owner.
“He has such a broad range, equally more than capable of moving from the most beautiful, minimal makeup to a full-on extravaganza with ease and speed,” says hairstylist Sam McKnight. “With Peter, absolute beauty is always the goal. He doesn’t do ugly.”
Today in the factory, where products he dreams up become reality, Philips is thrilled. The numbers alone can dazzle: A tub holding 20 pounds of bulk transforms into 2,000 lipsticks. (This workshop manufacturers about 25 million each year.) Man and machine work together on the 107 formulas used to produce the Rouge Dior lipstick shades.
Enthusiasm mounts and Philips pulls out a phone to take photos, visually documenting the happenings for Snapchat and Instagram. “A day like this is nice to share,” he says.
Philips, who joined Dior in spring 2014, was its first new makeup master since Tyen ended his 34-year tenure. With his hands-on approach, social-media savvy and clear-cut product strategy, Philips is really—and virtually—shaking up the house.
His agility and rarified work experience were among factors that attracted Dior, which signed him on after a brief freelancing stint and his work from 2008 to 2013 as Chanel’s global creative director for makeup.
“Peter Philips is an extremely talented creator. He is quick, intuitive, playful and fully in sync with the digital age,” describes Claude Martinez, president and chief executive officer of Parfums Christian Dior. “Peter has successfully drawn on the history of Dior makeup to lead it towards a strong future. He has a keen sense of poetry about him, while upholding an extremely generous and precise vision of women’s beauty.”
Dior, which launched its first lipstick in 1949, is widely considered the jewel in the crown of LVMH. Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy-owned beauty brands also include Guerlain, Givenchy, Kenzo, Fendi and Pucci. LVMH said Dior beauty gained market share in all regions in the first half of this year, and credited its latest makeup releases as contributors to the brand’s “excellent performance.”
Dior executives would not discuss numbers, but industry sources say makeup is the brand’s second-largest beauty category, making up 41 percent of revenues, versus fragrance, with 46 percent, and skincare, with 13 percent. In 2015, Dior’s beauty business overall generated $2.68 billion in retail sales, according to Euromonitor.
Dior color cosmetics figure among the top three prestige makeup brands worldwide, Martinez says. Meanwhile, Euromonitor ranks the label 7th among global prestige brands, tied with Kanebo – with a 1.4 percent share of the total color cosmetics market, including mass. That places Dior behind MAC, Lancôme, Clinique, Shiseido, Estée Lauder and Chanel.
A powerhouse like Philips could help muscle Dior up the ranks while luring new consumers.
Delphine Hervé-Turra, purchasing manager for Printemps department store’s beauty market, calls Philips’ approach “absolutely visionary.”
“As Dior makeup creator, he knows how to bring even more modernity and innovation with playful collections – like Polka Dots [nail polish duos] – and new techniques – such as graphic eyeliners,” she says. “He uses deep, intense colors [and] subtle shades, but also plays with textures and finishes.”
In the factory, Philips is in his element, connecting with colleagues and sharing information. When he first started at Dior, the makeup artist had in mind to visit here more than once a month. But that’s proven impossible due to his chockablock schedule. So someone from the laboratory delivers a suitcase full of samples to him weekly.
For lipstick, he’s first sent tubes poured by hand at LVMH’s Hélios beauty research center. If their color and texture are a go, a small machine produces a short batch, since the result from that process can differ from the first, more artisanal method. There may be dozens of modifications back and forth before a color-cosmetic product is finalized.
Between makeup creation, photo shoots and fashion seasons, Philips is on call practically seven days a week. “In June, I had one day off,” he admits. If there is any downtime, he enjoys visiting his family and house in Antwerp, Belgium – a second home after his apartment in Paris’ Marais district.
Every project Philips masterminds is time-involved. Take, for instance, the look of a fashion show. Four days prior to Dior’s resort presentation at Blenheim Palace outside of London on May 31st, he executed makeup tests for the house’s studio design team in company headquarters on Paris’ Avenue Montaigne.
A few weeks before, he had seen some fabrics and sketches from the collection. “We talked about eyes,” he said, at about 11:30 a.m. that day, explaining that the color red and a shiny texture came up in conversation, too.
After seeing two outfits and more clothes on a rack, Philips and his team worked on four models, two of whom had bleached eyebrows. One pair had red applied on their lids – one with a full smoky eye, while the other pair was given taupe and brown hues.
“We saw the venue, which is very rich, elaborate and ornamental. The clothes also have a lot of prints. In a way, we must make the girls strong, so that they don’t disappear, but at the same time keep a freshness to them, something more natural. We don’t want them to look like they are in a guided tour in a museum,” he said.
Models changed into collection pieces and walked for Philips and the Dior design team in a large room lined with accessories. A discussion ensued.
Philips explained afterward: “They prefer the ones with less sparkle… and it’s going more toward the browns and taupes.” So he reworked the makeup accordingly and presented the models again. After two tries and an equal number of hours, the look was decided upon. (That’s quick, given that makeup trials can sometimes wind into the wee hours of the morning.)
Show season is when Philips is most involved with Dior fashion. “That’s where there is a synergy… where I’m a bridge between fashion and cosmetics,” he says, following the factory visit. “When I create the looks for the catwalk show, I have to add that extra aspect, that extra spice, which is fashion. It’s about the look created to enhance the vision of a designer. But when I make my collections, I don’t think fashion – I think beauty.”
Philips does not believe that beauty trends are totally in sync with fashion anymore.
“It’s not like it used to be, [when] fashion was guided season after season, and automatically makeup followed that. It’s much broader,” he continues. “Seasonal colors don’t really exist anymore. It’s almost on a daily basis that things change in beauty, that things are hot and new, depending on who is wearing what.”
Philips reflects on two decades prior, when he began his career. Back then, there were fewer designers guiding trends, and they had less exposure than creators today. Over time, information on fashion became more accessible, and with that, style became more democratized. Today, there is a wide range of ways to express one’s beauty. While there’s typically one makeup look on the catwalk, the front row is now filled with bloggers and influencers.
“They all have their own looks, and they get as much exposure as a catwalk look,” says Philips. “Sometimes, they’re also guiding trends.” Reality TV and red carpets are also influencing people’s choices.
For Philips, designing beauty products is not a matter of translating a fashion ethos for a broader audience, but coming up with a makeup ethos unto itself. And for that, he follows his gut.
“I create for a house which is global, so my products, my creations, the innovation that we bring have to please women worldwide,” he explains. “I put [collections] together in a way that I think women will be seduced by. They have to believe in it [and say]: ‘I can actually use those products to enhance my beauty.’
“It’s not me that’s going to say: ‘This matte lipstick is going to be the trend you have to wear now.’ Those days are over,” he continues.
Philips believes the key to success is having a balanced collection with the right amount of colors and textures, plus some playful elements that lean toward fashion. For the new Rouge Dior line, due out in September, there’s been a formula upgrade. Color-wise, he’s kept many of the original shades but also added some edgy hues – yellow, blue-black, green and gray – and textures that could seduce women into trying something new. “They represent the fun of makeup,” he says.
Philips gleans inspiration in many ways. For lipstick, it’s about collecting color. “Whenever I see a very intriguing red or a nice orange or a beige, I’ll try to archive it. I’ll keep it,” he says, explaining it can be a bit of plastic, fabric itself or a photograph of the item. “It can be anything. [Everything’s] in my studio in Paris, where I’ve got drawers full of little things.”
In conceiving lipstick, Philips also thinks about who will wear it, her expectations and how she can be surprised by its nuances.
For seasonal collections, it’s more about theme-based storytelling, plus playing with new formulas and packaging. In conceiving the Dior collection due out in fall, called Skyline, for example, Philips wanted to focus on facial shading and sculpting. “I started thinking about the architecture of a face,” he says. “I’m in Paris, and I saw this documentary about the Eiffel Tower. So everything came together. The Eiffel Tower is an architectural masterpiece. [It] is painted in three different shades to optically give the illusion of being one. That’s exactly the same with the face [contouring].”
Philips perpetually gets feedback from female team members. “The way I create is with a lot of respect toward women,” he says.
When Philips first arrived at Dior, he tried to pinpoint the house’s archetypal woman, but couldn’t. “There are many,” he insists, adding that the plethora of lines – Dior Addict, which is about glitter, color and playful textures; Rouge Dior, which is refined, and Diorific with a vintage Eighties feel – reflect her multiplicity. “She loves to play with makeup, and she likes change. It can be a girl who is kind of gangster in a way, but it can be also a very sophisticated lady. She has many faces, like the range.
“They are all women who embrace their femininity and who love makeup to enhance their beauty or to express themselves,” continues Philips.
He isn’t out to create a revolution at the house. Philips first introduced new textures he thought Dior was missing, beginning with matte lipstick, and tweaked the eye shadow palettes. “From a purely makeup artist point of view, if there are too many sparkles in too many different colors of a palette, one kills the other,” he explains. “The three-step makeup application for the eye-shadow palette had to make more sense. There is always a really dark, well-covering matte or semi-matte color, which guarantees a woman can shade and change the form of her eye shadow.”
He said the response has been positive. Philips also believes in expanding and giving more power to the Backstage Pros line. “It’s just essential, basic products which do the work for you,” he says. “It’s a very small line that has a huge following.”
Such items – formerly makeup artists’ hush-hush tricks of the trade – are now common knowledge, due in part to the huge reach of makeup featured on social media.
The digital universe can be both a boon and bane. The new generation of indie makeup brands born online is taking market share away from some of the more established beauty labels. But Philips maintains a brand like Dior remains competitive and can lasso the agnostic Millennial consumer thanks to strengths including its products’ high quality, plus Dior’s credibility, longstanding experience and powerful R&D facilities and factories.
Would Philips ever think of launching his own line, as some other makeup artists have recently done? “I’m happy working under this cape of a luxury house,” he says. “I know how complex [creating a line] is. When I make collections they’re high quality. So my expectations of something that I would do for [myself] are very high.”
Philips says he will not leave Dior due to the departure of Raf Simons, the house’s previous creative director, who is a friend. “I didn’t come because of Raf,” he says.
After Maria Grazia Chiuri was named as Dior’s new designer in early, Philips explained: “I’m looking forward to completing Maria’s vision for Dior with a touch of makeup. Her energy and spirit are very inspiring.”
The Dior makeup label today has a broad geographic reach, with key markets being China, Russia, the U.S., Japan and Italy. Bloggers and influencers can take Dior’s message both worldwide and local. The brand announced it had signed on Bella Hadid as makeup ambassador the day of the resort show in Blenheim.
Dior’s choice was based on the way she stages and presents her Instagram and Snapchat accounts, according to Martinez, adding: “Her image, her modern elegance are in perfect keeping with the Dior spirit.”
The show day started early for Philips. At 6:40 a.m. he left from The Berkeley hotel in London, wearing his signature navy Margiela V-neck sweater, button-down shirt and khakis, to start the car journey to Blenheim, about 90 minutes away.
He snapped photos of the sweeping, majestic palace – the main residence of the dukes of Marlborough in Oxfordshire – before setting up in one of its former carriage houses. At 8:55 a.m., his team of makeup artists gathered around him, many with notebooks in hand for a tutorial. Philips ran through the look – contouring, blending.
“I really push the powder in. You don’t see me swiping,” he counseled, turning the talk to eye shadow.
“That’s it, actually, very simple,” he sums up, adding after a pause: “Curl the lashes. Just testing you!” Everyone laughed, then returned to their stations.
At about 10:45 a.m., he was filmed making up Hadid for the first installment of a Dior Web series. Hours ticked by to the buzz of hairdryers wielded by Guido Palau’s hair team, before the rehearsal at 1:50 p.m., after which Philips returned to finalize the look.
He color blocked the models’ eyelids in an intense reddish-chocolate hue with a satiny shine. Lips had a hint of peach color and skin was enhanced with radiance. He called the effect “calm and linear,” with a contemporary aspect to counterbalance the historic venue.
A few weeks later, at the factory, Philips discusses Hadid. “I love working with Bella,” he says, likening her to a breath of fresh air. “She is very spontaneous, hardworking.” He lauds Millennials like her for their facility in the digital world.
Philips is a star in his own right. While maybe not yet a household name, he is often approached by flight attendants curious about makeup tips. One woman in Japan even burst into tears recently, upon seeing him. But it’s really social media that has catapulted him into another stratosphere.
About 18 months ago, he became fascinated by Instagram. “I saw it as a portfolio,” he explains. So Philips started his own feed, where he posts magazine work with credits for everything from photographers to hairstylists and models. A fan base started building up, and Philips found that if he posted an image of his makeup table, within two hours, he would receive thousands of views, not to mention a hundred-plus questions.
“There actually is a community there,” he says. “And so I got more intrigued.”
Next, he got hooked on Snapchat, which Philips considers a great vector for sharing his day-today.
Every day, he is on social media. He posts, for instance, on Instagram through DiorMakeup and through PeterPhilipsMakeup, where he has 302,000 and 96,500 followers, respectively. He uses other methods, too, for staying in touch with consumers. When traveling for press events, he tries to meet with local beauty editors. “They know exactly what their women want, what their needs are,” he says.
People running Dior counters and the label’s Pro Team of makeup artists are excellent sources of information, as well.
Coworkers highly respect him. “Peter is a thoughtful and inventive collaborator and a great communicator,” says photographer Craig McDean. “He always makes women look modern.”
“By working closely with designers, he brings their vision of the overall look to life, but he also is a great listener and adapts quickly,” says Polona Dolzan, curatorial and project assistant at London College of Fashion’s Fashion Space Gallery, which last year staged the exhibit “Warpaint: Alexander McQueen and Make-Up” that spotlighted the work of makeup artists including Philips. “His approach is almost forensic; his application so precise.”
Back in the factory, he’s now looking at another machine, where bulk is poured into 180 molds that can be either of metal or of Silicone with a slight texture, depending on the desired visual effect of a lipstick – shiny or matte.
Each product is inspected visually by two workers, who have next to them trash cans seconding as lipstick graveyards. For Lip Glow products, 2 percent to 3 percent of the sticks are thrown away, while for Addict, it can run up to 20 to 30 percent.
Next door in the lab, Philips marvels at seeing the making of a face powder compact he drew the design for, inspired by origami. A powder – one color at a time – is painstakingly swept by hand over a metal palette. Two are done at once, with about 16 produced per hour (versus the 3,000 pans of powder an automatic machine can churn out).
He appears to have slotted in easily at Dior, whose culture he says differs greatly from Chanel’s.
“They are two amazing houses,” Philips says of the brands with many parallels – both being French, with cosmetics, couture and ready-to-wear lines. “They seem similar, but are so different. The mechanism that works for one house I’m sure will never work for the other, and the other way around. It’s not that one is better than the other.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about beauty culture, which has changed radically due to social media.
“Girls and women literally show live from their bathroom, from their bedroom, from in front of their mirrors that you don’t have to be a picture-perfect face to be beautiful,” says Philips. “There are so many amazing makeovers, and they can go from natural to very extreme.”
The plethora of opportunities abounds for Philips. And he smiles knowingly.