“I create for a woman who’s not afraid to express herself. She’s not afraid of color and likes to change,” said the creative and image director for Christian Dior makeup, while sitting in his rooftop, A-frame office on Paris’ Right Bank that is chockablock with books, photographs and products.
“She is a very playful woman, who likes to experiment. It [sounds] clichéd, but the Dior woman is multifaceted,” he continued, explaining she is also fearless about her femininity. “She looks to the catwalk, the beauty counter, the perfume shop. She mixes and matches.”
Philips is Dior’s third makeup maestro — following Tyen, who held the position between 1980 and 2014, and Serge Lutens, whose tenure lasted from 1967 to 1980.
Just three years into the role at Dior, Philips said he learned a lot about the house while working on a retrospective beauty book, “The Art of Color,” which was released internationally by Rizzoli New York last year.
“It really gave me the opportunity, in a playful way, to discover, not with the goal of making a collection or creating a color…through photography and the work of Serge Lutens and Tyen, what makeup meant to the house, how bold actually they have been from Day One — and how daring,” said Philips.
“Dare with Dior,” in fact, was a slogan from the Sixties that caught Philips’ eye while mining Dior’s rich archives. He also noted some striking visuals conceived by Lutens, including a “crazy, insane and amazing” striped makeup look.
“It’s one of the reasons why I got into makeup,” confided Philips, who riffed on that very look early on in his career, for a Veronique Branquinho show.
He called the Lutens-created image on the cover of “The Art of Color,” featuring a woman with a yellow-and-white face, “mind-blowing” and “timeless.”
The past, in fact, is always part of the present at Dior and is cast in a new perspective according to whose lens it’s viewed through.
“When I talk to Maria Grazia [Chiuri], she looks at the archives from a totally different angle, and she tells a different story,” said Philips, referring to Dior’s creative director for women’s wear. “So that’s also very inspiring.”
He works closely with Chiuri on fashion shows, concocting the models’ makeup for the runway displays.
“I’m there at the service of [her] vision,” said Philips, who explained it took a few shows to decipher what works best with Chiuri’s Dior woman on the catwalk. “We ended up almost with a natural base — a natural girl — where we add a few tiny elements. If you do a strong look, it suddenly puts a woman in a frame, which is not necessarily what Maria Grazia wants to say.
“The way she approaches and talks about beauty and natural beauty is something I am totally in sync with,” continued Philips. “I totally respect that, a woman’s individuality.”
Outside of fashion weeks, however, he is focused on satisfying his beauty customer. “She is not necessarily a fashion girl,” he said, explaining that beauty trends are not totally in step with ready-to-wear anymore. Nowadays, seasonal colors hardly exist anymore, and beauty trends can change on an almost daily basis.
In conceiving products, Philips is in constant touch with the Dior makeup laboratory — located near Orléans, a city in central France — that’s part of Hélios, the research facility for Dior’s parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s fragrance and cosmetics activities. The Dior makeup factory sits right next door.
When he began at Dior, Philips intended to visit the site more than once a month, but that’s proven difficult due to his busy schedule. So someone from the lab delivers a suitcase full of samples to him weekly.
For lipstick, Philips is first sent tubes poured by hand at Hélios. If their color and texture are right, 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.
With makeup creation, photo shoots and fashion seasons, Philips is on call almost every day of the week. He draws inspiration from everything around him. “It’s simple things,” he said.
In conceiving lipstick, for instance, Philips collects colors — tidbits with eye-catching hues or photographs thereof. He also thinks about who will wear it, what she expects and how she can be surprised by its nuances.
For the upcoming spring collection, for instance, he went back to the roots of the house.
“I took a color which is iconic for Dior,” he said, referring to pink. “I wanted to show [its] different faces. So we worked with pink, and then I associated it with glow. We are really strong with glow products at Dior.”
On arriving at the house, he was charged with reinjecting a more audacious quotient into the makeup business.
“In this era, it’s [about] finding the right balance between a marketing-focused brand and a creative brand,” said Philips. Taking into consideration Dior’s geographic markets — their needs and evolutions — is key to the business development, as well. “But at the same time, you have to stay loyal to what made this house great, its creative vision.”
Philips introduced new textures he thought the house was missing, beginning with matte lipstick, and tweaked Dior’s eye shadow palettes. He expanded and gave more muscle to the Backstage Pros line, too.
“You have to approach [makeup] differently than even 10 years ago,” Philips said of the business overall. “It’s like fashion.”
Both clothing and cosmetics, he pointed out, have recently become more democratic than ever — thanks in no small part to the Internet — helping morph color cosmetics into the megawatt, global industry it is today.
Philips believes the key is having a balanced makeup collection with the right amount of colors and textures, plus some playful elements that nod to fashion.
The rise of digital has also catapulted Philips — a self-proclaimed behind-the-scenes guy — into the role of Internet star. His Instagram has 217,000 followers, and the number keeps climbing. The Dior makeup Instagram page, meanwhile, counts 1.7 million fans.
Bella Hadid — now a face of Dior Makeup — in late May 2016 was tapped as a makeup ambassador for the house, appearing in online videos. In September, for instance, she was the star of a clip about what goes on behind the scenes before she hits a red carpet.
Other Dior makeup ambassadors are Natalie Portman for Rouge Dior, since 2013, and Diorskin, starting in 2012. Jennifer Lawrence has fronted Dior Addict makeup for two years.
Dior makeup entered the limelight in late 1949, when the house launched in time for the end-of-year holiday season a small line of Rouge Dior lipstick, in limited edition. In April 1953, a Rouge Dior line, with eight shades, came out, followed by Dior’s debut nail polish, nine years later.
“What made this house really great is, starting from season one, [that there was] the New Look. This house gives each creative mind [the opportunity] to create their own New Look,” Philips said.
“And so, the pool of DNA becomes bigger and more varied,” he continued. “If you look at what Serge Lutens did, or what Tyen did or what I do — it’s different. It is adapted to the time, the era, but still respecting the [house’s] DNA.”