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How Peter Philips Conceptualizes Beauty Looks for the Couture Runway

The mastermind artist behind Dior's runway makeup let us in on his creative process.
Peter Philips. Photo: Courtesy of Dior

Peter Philips. Photo: Courtesy of Dior

For the past four years, makeup artist Peter Philips has been the creative and image director for Christian Dior beauty, having a hand in everything from developing new products and campaigns to overseeing and executing every single beauty look that comes down the Dior runway during every ready-to-wear and couture collection. Philips was formerly the creative director of Chanel makeup and has also logged hours painting the faces of models backstage at Dries Van Noten, Fendi, Calvin Klein and for magazine covers such as i-D and AnOther.

In the late '80s, Philips studied fashion at Antwerp's Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts, which introduced and sparked his love of backstage beauty. "We all went by train in a bus to Paris and we helped backstage with the upcoming Belgian designers," Philips said earlier this summer at a New York City event celebrating the launch of Dior's new makeup line inspired by all things backstage. "It was like a closed set; it was a private environment. Backstage was a backstage, no one was supposed to be there. There were no camera crews. You could see the transformations and you could see the hair people transforming models. I thought, I want to do that. Fashion is such a broader palette than designing clothes."

The cat-eye look Philips created in collaboration with milliner Stephen Jones. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

The cat-eye look Philips created in collaboration with milliner Stephen Jones. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Though Philips conceptualizes the makeup for all of Dior's collections, the couture runway is a completely different beast. The couture shows are more intimate than those of ready-to-wear and, one could argue, more fantasy-driven. Take, for example, last season, when Philips collaborated with the iconic milliner Stephen Jones to create an extreme, spiky cat-eye using the then newly-released Dior Diorshow On Stage Liquid Eyeliner. It was one of Philips' favorite looks of all time because, "the masks really highlighted the eyeliner." It was also an unusual working process for him, since he had to create a makeup look that would work in harmony with such a bold accessory (which nearly covered the models' entire faces, in some cases) made of netting, tulle and transparent mesh.

Similar to the drama and theatrics of the look from couture spring 2018, the makeup at Dior's Spring 2017 Couture show (Artistic Director Maria Grazia Chiuri's first couture collection for the label) was a whimsical and otherworldly. Think: stars and sequins as ornamentation on the corner of models' eyes and sprinkles of metallic dots where the typical highlighter might be placed. And while the makeup of the fall 2017 couture collection proved to be much more demure than its predecessors and future collections, the fantasy was firmly rooted in concept, where the barefaced look took inspiration from that of Amelia Earhart.

The beauty look from Dior's Spring 2017 Couture show. Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

The beauty look from Dior's Spring 2017 Couture show. Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

"When it's a runway show, in general, you don't really have to think about the personality of the model, because she is there to represent the vision of the designer," says Philips on his process of creating a couture beauty look. "When you do makeup on a woman, you think about her, it's her personality and her strength and weaknesses you have to hide or put forward. It's a different relationship and you also have to think about whether it's a party she has to go to or not, or where she’s going. It's not a catwalk."

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When Philips sets out thinking about the DNA of what the beauty look of a couture show will be, he's also usually following cues from Chuiri. "Normally, I have my first conversation with Maria Grazia," he says. "Sometimes it's even right after the show we just finished and she says, 'Oh next time, we'll do this or that,' or it might be two weeks in advance of the show."

"What drives me is the creative process and trying to do different things than other people do," he says, referring to his creative process and one of his most popular and most recreated beauty looks as of late: the crystal-rimmed eyes at Dries Van Noten's Spring 2018 show. "I do respect the skills of people [re]doing my makeup, but on the other hand, I feel you miss out on something because doing our job is not only about repeating and what's been done. That could be a starting point to push it further — that's just the fun of it."

The beauty look Dries Van Noten's Spring 2018 show. Photo: Imaxtree

The beauty look Dries Van Noten's Spring 2018 show. Photo: Imaxtree

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It's also no surprise that Philips stewarded Dior's latest beauty launch — a Sephora-exclusive range, aptly named Backstage — and used the products during the two most recent runway shows. The collection includes "makeup-artist essentials," such as lightweight, slim contour; highlighting and lip palettes in neutral, crowd-pleasing hues; and the brand's first aim at inclusive foundation in the form of 40 shades. 

"It's about democratization," he says. "Makeup, for a lot of women, used to be like a stress factor or a fear factor. I remember when I started doing makeup and I started creating products, 80 percent of the questions were linked with problems — how to do this, how do that, how to avoid this, easy tips. Now people ask, 'Where can I get a product; are there more exciting things coming out?' Women are not afraid of makeup anymore, because they know they can find the answers on social media."

Still, the most important tools Philips uses to create couture-ready beauty looks are surprising, because they actually have nothing to do with a must-have makeup product. "I have a little spoon in my kit and it kind of puts people off," he laughs. "I have a lighter, too, and it's always on the table. For some reason, they think it's something to do with drugs and I'm as clean as a baby, I've never done drugs in my life. I use the spoon to curl lashes and the lighter to disinfect kohl liner. On social media, I have to really explain what's on the table."

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