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What Dior Makeup Creative Director Peter Philips Has Learned About Making Women Feel Beautiful

A discussion with the makeup artist-slash-visionary.

Peter Philips. Photo: Courtesy of Dior

Peter Philips. Photo: Courtesy of Dior

Creative and image director for Dior makeup Peter Philips is, at heart, an artist. Known for pushing boundaries and experimenting with playful, unexpected looks — as well as his masterful technique for making women look naturally radiant — he's been a key part of cultivating the modern Dior aesthetic since he signed on with the company in 2014. One of his latest projects (out this fall) is Dior, The Art of Color, a stunning visual celebration of the French house's use of color and makeup throughout its history. 

The book is divided into 12 chapters, each centered around a different hue: White, Silver, Nude, Pink, Red, Purple, Blue, Green, Yellow, Gold, Gray, and Black. Philips's work — including a new portfolio of 12 images shot by Richard Burbridge — is showcased alongside work from the two former Dior Makeup creative directors, Serge Lutens and Tyen. While he was in New York celebrating the book's release, Philips sat down with Fashionista to discuss what he hopes people will glean from it, what it's like seeing his work immortalized next to creative directors past, the modern evolution of the Dior woman and the (surprising) Instagram accounts he considers must-follows.

Dior, The Art of Color. (Serge Lutens, Catherine Aubert, 1968) Photo: Serge Lutens/ Courtesy of Dior

Dior, The Art of Color. (Serge Lutens, Catherine Aubert, 1968) Photo: Serge Lutens/ Courtesy of Dior

How did the idea for this book come about?
I've been at Dior for two and a half years. The CEO of Dior Parfums, Claude Martinez, is a real fanatic about makeup and beauty. I think he wanted to do a tribute to this heritage we have: Since '67, there were creative directors for makeup, starting with Serge Lutens, who served until the '80s, and then Tyen, and now me. I think he really wanted to pay tribute to this heritage and, at the same time, also this desire to claim color. This book shows that Dior has always been a house with a vision that dares. It's very unconventional, and very unconventional beauty shoots have been going on since day one. The slogan from Christian Dior himself, back when he launched mini beauty collections in the '40s and '50s with his couture collections, was "Dare We Dior?" We have to remind ourselves of that — even in this day when things are all about business and the industry — that there's a place to dare and to play and be creative. That's why this book was born, to pay homage to this amazing work that's been done by Tyen and by Serge Lutens.

Serge Lutens, Makeup Art, 1972. Photo: Serge Lutens/Courtesy of Dior

Serge Lutens, Makeup Art, 1972. Photo: Serge Lutens/Courtesy of Dior

What story do you think the book tells?
It's 12 chapters, and each chapter talks about a color visually. There are interviews with Serge Lutens, with Tyen and then my interview. And they reflect how makeup evolved from '67 to the 1980s; in the '80s, the beauty industry wasn't the beauty industry [like it is today]. When Tyen was at the helm from the '80s until a few years ago, it was a different era. So it's also a reminder of how beauty grew into the business that it is now, and the book really illustrates it in a very beautiful way, I think. 

What does it mean to you to see your work immortalized alongside theirs?
It's kind of a lot of pressure, because I'm [being held] up to 13 years of Serge Lutens and 25 years of Tyen, and then I'm going, 'Hi, I've been here two and a half years.' And also, the thing is, I'm not a photographer. Serge and Tyen shot their own campaigns. They used to be able to do a beauty shoot, and for one picture they could take two days. Now we have to shoot six beauty shots in one day. I left it in the hands of Marc [Ascoli, who edited the book], you know, how do I fit in? That's why we decided to do a portfolio. So in three days, we shot the 12 pictures.

What was it like working with Marco?
Marco is an amazing art director; he's been around since the late '80s and '90s, he did all of the early Jil Sander campaigns with Nick Knight. When you talk to him, he's a dreamer. He's got this enormous cultural luggage that he carries with him. 

In the beginning I was a bit stressed because I'm in this mentality now [that] time is money, we have to produce and create; but when you're in meetings with Marc it seems like time stops, and it's like 25 years ago. It's refreshing to take your time again and to work on a book like this. You see that it's not just a bunch of images; there's a whole philosophy behind it, a whole way of thinking, a whole knowledge and culture behind it. 

For example, the picture we chose as a cover; I love this one. This is '68, shot by Serge Lutens. It's one of the first pictures he shot for Dior. And for me, this reflects totally what Dior stands for. It's an image that is timeless, it was revolutionary in its day and still is kind of new. It could've been shot yesterday. And I'm sure in 20 to 30 years, it'll still be "new." And that's for me what this book stands for. It's boldness, it's innovation, it's vision.

So many of the images in the book are like that, they could be from any time and they do hold up so well. What do you think that says about Dior and the aesthetic of the house?
I think that's the strength of the house, not only in makeup, but also in couture. One of the strengths of Dior is that from the day the house started, Christian Dior, himself, was a rebel. What he did in his day was very rebellious. I mean, in Paris, in Europe, coming out of the war, it was a very dark period, and he really wanted to reclaim color, reclaim luxury, reclaim femininity. He said, 'We need to dream, and I'm here to help you make this dream a reality.' One of his first collections got reviewed with two key words, which I think really represent what Dior stands for: the "New Look." It was called the "New Look," and every designer that has joined the house [since], whether designing couture or makeup, they were given this platform to create their own "New Look," and to do that with respect for the DNA of the house. That's something that grows every season, because every collection that's made adds to the DNA. 

Tyen, Rouge Dior ad, 1990. Photo: Tyen/Courtesy of Dior

Tyen, Rouge Dior ad, 1990. Photo: Tyen/Courtesy of Dior

As you were first starting at Dior, and now that you've been there for a little while, who have you drawn the most inspiration from?
I think it's the whole package of Dior, it's a constant inspiration. I'm not somebody who digs into archives or dives into references. I constantly get impulses. For example, when I worked with Raf [Simons], I've known Raf for over 20 years, so it kind of helped me get inspired. It helped me also to find that Dior woman that he was putting out. And with Maria [Grazia Chiuri] it's the same thing. We had a lot of conversations. I don't know where we're going, but I can feel what we're going to do. 

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One of the things you mention in the book is that it's often more challenging to create a natural makeup look than it is to create an avant-garde one. Why do you think that is?
If you want to do a natural look... a good example is the [spring 2017] show we just did. Those girls all have very strong faces, very individual, and we all needed to enhance their natural beauty, which maybe wasn't conventional beauty in every case. Then it becomes very technical, because you want them to look beautiful without having to look made up. It must look like they're not wearing makeup, so then your skill comes in. You have to really analyze the skin tone — do we enhance it or do we counterbalance it? If she's got dark circles under her eyes or if she's got pimples... does she need contouring without seeing that she's been contoured? So it's much more subtle, and much more about the skill of a makeup artist than just doing a splash of gold paint on somebody's face. That's always going to be spectacular.

So it's also more about preserving the individuality of the model a bit more?
Yes. For the last show, when we did each girl, we'd really look at the face and say 'OK, maybe that girl, a little bit more on the eyebrow, maybe a little contouring, she's fine. Another girl, just a bit of foundation, and the rest we don't touch.' So we did each girl individually, with very subtle little changes.

Silver by Peter Philips, Portfolio, Julie Hoomans. Photo: Richard Burbridge/Courtesy of Dior

Silver by Peter Philips, Portfolio, Julie Hoomans. Photo: Richard Burbridge/Courtesy of Dior

A lot of shows seem to tailor individual looks to different models. Do you see that as a trend and where the industry is heading right now?
I think so, and not just for the makeup but also the casting. There are a lot of non-models walking shows, and shows with models combined with people and bloggers and celebrities and semi-celebrities, different ages, different genders. That reflects society, and that's what fashion is all about, right?

How has that impacted you when you're conceiving the runway looks or when you're creating the products?
I always try to take into consideration that a woman wants to find at Dior guaranteed beauty. Not necessarily trends, but beauty. Not every woman wants to have the last hot thing. But every woman wants to be beautiful. So once that base is covered, those products that guarantee beauty, then I can push it and play. And one will help the other, because if I were to only do crazy or trendy things, then you kind of lose your credibility. By making sure that my main motivation is guaranteed beauty — those great formulas, great shades so everybody can find what they need — once that's established, the next things you can do are the green lipsticks or yellow lipsticks or fun textures or crazy colors or whatever. It will look more sensible and more respectful toward women, also, because they know you're not there to make them look funny or forced.

What about in terms of the actual products? The packaging is always so beautiful as well — why is that important to you?
I think it makes it precious, and I know when a woman buys makeup it's a very personal, intimate affair. I think when a woman does her makeup it's precious time. It's time that is a luxury, and you have to give yourself that time; you're worth it. The products that we create should also evoke and reflect that, and making them look precious kind of helps.

It's this feeling of... you kind of pamper yourself. It makes you feel good in the morning when you have your little precious bottle in the bathroom and keep the box. I mean, looking good has got a lot to do with feeling good, and I think if you know that you can pamper yourself and spend a little bit more money on things that will make you look good and you give yourself that time in the morning, it'll help to make you feel good. It's all about that.

In your childhood you were very inspired by films. Is that something you still draw on today?
A lot, yeah. I love it. I learned a lot from those films, it's all so visual. Even on Instagram, people must think 'Oh, the strange accounts he follows,' but I follow Hollywood icons, like Marilyn Monroe or Sophia Loren, fan sites or whatever, but because there are amazing visuals. I follow Bette Davis and every day they post a fragment of a movie with Bette Davis, and it's just genius.

It's the new technology of Instagram bringing in the old, classic films — the old and the new together?
Yeah, and it's funny because those women, in those days, those were the role models. They were totally shaped and guided by the studios, and there were not so many of them, there were maybe 15 of them? But they set the rules. And they always looked immaculate, always were shot in front of bright lights. Perfectly accessorized, perfectly groomed. Not all of them were that beautiful, you know? But they knew how to pose, they knew how to work their hair and the makeup and the lighting, and it can be very inspirational. It's good on a very modern medium like social media that there are accounts that really give those icons a new life.

Gold by Peter Philips, Portfolio, Julie Hoomans. Photo: Richard Burbridge/Courtesy of Dior

Gold by Peter Philips, Portfolio, Julie Hoomans. Photo: Richard Burbridge/Courtesy of Dior

Is there anything else on social media that you're fond of at the moment?
One of the first of the accounts I ever followed was Black Jaguar White Tiger. It's amazing, and it's grown so much. It's this guy, and he's got this tiger sanctuary. But the crazy thing is... sometimes you think that he's not going to live. He's always with these animals. And there are so many of them, there are big lions and cats and I love it, it's just fantastic. Now it's got 5.8 million followers. Another one that I love to follow is The Art of Shade. It's hilarious. It's just, like, people throwing shade. I follow magazines. I don't really follow a lot of beauty or fashion; I follow my colleagues: Sam McKnight, Guido, Sharon Dowsett, Dick Page — he does lots of food.

If there's anything that you would hope that someone would take away when they look through the book, what is that main message?
Enjoy makeup, enjoy color, enjoy the fun of it. Play with it. I didn't even read my own article because it always makes me uncomfortable. But it's a great opportunity to hear the voices of people like Serge Lutens and Tyen, who really helped shape the world of beauty. It's part of our beauty history and it helped to build up to where we are now, and if that was done in the '60s on a platform created by Dior, it says a lot about his house. 

The above interview has been edited for clarity.

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