Backstage with Peter Philips: The Iconic Makeup Artist on Dior’s Fall/Winter 2015 Makeup Look

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Last week, our Editor-in-Chief, Haleh Nia, was granted backstage access at the Dior Fall/Winter 2015 show for a rare interview with iconic makeup artist Peter Philips, who since March of 2014 has served as Creative and Image Director of Dior Make-Up. Here, the two have an insightful chat about the buzzed-about beauty look from the runway, as well as how his industry has been affected in recent years by the massive spread of makeup videos and tutorials on the internet.

In the context of today’s look, I wanted to talk to you about the collaborative process, about starting with the fashion collection and then interpreting that into beauty and sensations. What was the brief?
I saw the collection and the first intention of the collection for the first time like ten days ago. It wasn’t even the whole collection, just the fabric, some fur, and a lot of sketches. The sketches were like photocopies, like a collage or a mood board. I also heard the things Raf [Simons] said, the keywords. It kind of linked with what I had in my autumn collection, so I showed him my autumn collection and afterwards more colors came in, so this was a first start. The keywords were “totally asymmetric”, “no symmetry”, “very graphic”, and “animal prints” – animal prints that are graphically manipulated so that they become very abstract and unrecognizable almost. From the fabrics he showed me, I started playing with colors. I focused straight on the eyes; we don’t need to focus so much on lips anymore.

From the fabrics he showed me, I started playing with colors.

What did you use for the lips today?
What I used for the lips is a new product, a skincare product. It’s part of the ‘Backstage Pro Line’ that comes out in autumn. I called it ‘Fix It’ and it comes in three shades. You can use it as a concealer to touch up blemishes, as a primer for a lipstick, for lip tone neutralizing, and it is actually a skin balm in the middle and a concealer at the edges. It’s all I used. Normally when you want a neural lip you use foundation or something, but it kind of dries out. I went for this one.

What is your favorite product right now? Is it this one?
I love this, because it’s new. My whole team discovered it today and they were crazy for it.

And what were the colors for the eyes?
I used the khaki from my autumn collection – the plum, the blue, and the purple. The thing is that I applied them wet, because I wanted to give this graphic element. The graphic aspect of his collection, I wanted to bring it back in the makeup, so by applying it wet I could do a very graphic, strong color. Let me show you: If you apply it dry, you get a nice soft shadow and, if you apply it wet, you get a very intense, almost metallic color.

Do you do that free hand or with a stencil for the eyes?
No, I never use a stencil. I actually designed the makeup with this in mind, because I need to give my team a tool to play with. So what happens is you place this on the inner corner of the eye and that creates the shape that you see in the makeup. That’s how I create the shapes. There are no stencils. I must say I did most of the girls myself for this show, because this look is tricky. If you go too high up they look like showgirls, and if you go too low you get sad eyes, a bit clowny. This product is the most metallic, so it becomes very shiny when you apply it wet. Those are a bit less metallic, so they become almost velvety. That’s something you can bring into your own makeup; you can do the shading normally and then you can use the applicator.

I would never imagine you’d actually use that small applicator backstage, because for me it’s just something that you keep in your bag for a quick touchup.
Someone from my team made fun of me and said, “You look so 80s with that thing in your hands.”

Well, it doesn’t have much room for grip either.
Yes, but it’s handy. I use it on a model and then I throw it away; I take other one.

With so much happening during Fashion Week, how do you always manage to create some of the most talked-about looks every season? What is your secret to success with each show?
I don’t do so many shows, so maybe that allows me to take my time. I’m not a show factory. I used to do a lot of shows when I was younger, but now I just did Fendi, Dries Van Noten, and Dior. This way, I have time to communicate with a designer, to talk about what they want, and to have a conversation going on. And actually I also know Dries van Noten very well, I know Karl [Lagerfeld] very well, and I know Raf very well. My makeup is not always that spectacular, but I always try to create a look that will make the fashion stronger. A fashion show is about the clothes, and there shouldn’t be a clash between hair, makeup, and styling. Last Haute Couture Week, I had so much success with my natural makeup. It was barely there, but I think it was just the right makeup for that show. It just made everything richer. I think maybe that is my secret.

You do share a background with Dries and Raf, being Belgian. Do you think your Belgian background influences you in any way?
Maybe. I’ve never thought about that. And Karl is also German. Maybe the way we communicate is less complicated. There is no shame in making mistakes; that’s what the creative process is. When I am with Raf or with Dries, I am not afraid of doing something and of making a mistake. It can be a barometer to find out what they want; if I do something and they definitely don’t want to go that way, then I know that they want to go this way. It takes away the pressure to know that there is no fear of failing, because in the end it is just makeup. I’ve known these designers for years, and I think they trust me.

There is no shame in making mistakes; that’s what the creative process is.

How do your graphic design degree and background inform your work and your aesthetic?
It has helped me a lot with colors. I’ve also got a steady hand, so that’s why you thought I used a stencil. I can actually draw.

Only because they all look so perfectly similar!
Yes, but I did most of the girls today. My assistants did the eyes, but I just defined them and finished them. My background helps me when it comes to playing with colors, with textures, with pigments, and also with themes. I did graphic design at art school, and within graphic design I learned about photography. I learned about how to make sets, and I learned about lights. I realized afterwards that all these things came in handy for shooting and when creating a collection. For example, when creating a collection I have to take into consideration a woman in Tokyo who spends most of her time in artificial lighting, and some of the elements also have to please women who live in LA where there’s always the most amazing sunlight.

What is the most exciting thing for you now in the beauty and fashion world?
What I find so intriguing and very exciting is how the internet makes every woman almost a professional. There is so much information on the internet, which makes things, for me, much more challenging, because you can’t fool anybody anymore. There is always an answer somewhere on the internet. Today, people are less afraid of makeup. If you compare it to five or ten years ago, the fear of makeup is gone – now with Kim Kardashian and all that contouring and shading and highlighting you see on the internet. The internet is making these things more and more accessible, and I think it’s a great thing. I mean most people are actually creating for themselves a world where they are, from morning to evening, in the spotlight. They have to be impeccable, because they need to take selfies; they are constantly on Instagram. It is a very visual world. It makes them almost professional. They need to be professional, because they create this illusion.

So how do you rise to that challenge?
It makes me more alert. There is a growing professionalism, there is more knowledge, more design, more need. There are extremes, here and there, but there is this whole new world that is opening up, and it is a challenge to create products, to create formulas, to work in the lab.

How do you bring your own sensibilities to a very storied house like Dior? How do you give your take on the heritage?
I think it is my experience and my expertise. I’m not a young puppy anymore, so in a way automatically what I do today translates that very well. I created the products I use for Dior; they are very Dior. It’s a big collection that is very Dior, with Dior formulas, Dior DNA, and I apply them, I think, in a contemporary way for Dior. I am very respectful of the DNA, but also very aware of what is happening now in 2015. It’s about finding the right balance to make sure that everything Dior is there, and I think that they hired me to keep things contemporary, with respect for the past, but also with a view towards the future.

Photos: Courtesy of Dior

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