Making up is hard to do
It might only take a minute to apply foundation but it can take Peter Philips up to three years to create a new one. Then again, the global creative director for make-up at Chanel might also devise a new nail lacquer shade in just days - as was the case with last year's Jade Le Vernis polish, a strangely compelling pistachio hue that Philips created after witnessing Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld's green and pastel pink catwalk designs. It hit a price high on eBay of US$325 a bottle.
'It can be spur of the moment or I go in very deep to think about textures and colours,' Philips says from his Paris office, his Belgian accent peppered with Americanisms after spending many years in New York.
Perhaps more than any other cosmetics position in a global company, Philips' role is all-encompassing. His fingerprints are on every new Chanel make-up item - from the early stages of a product's concept to perfecting the formula and the design (including colour ranges). He has close working relationships with the chemists, packaging design and marketing staff.
Philips can lay claim to being the brains behind the Les Trompe-L'Oeil de Chanel, a range of temporary tattoos in the guise of chains, necklaces, bracelets and even earrings that launched in January, merging edgy, feminine-Goth symbols with upmarket glamour. But right now, Philips is revelling in the reviews of his recently released Rouge Coco lipstick range, most famously seen on the lips of Sandra Bullock at the Academy Awards this year.
'Whenever I heard my friends talk about Chanel, they would talk about red lipstick,' says Philips. 'But I hardly ever saw people wear red. I would see girls wearing lip gloss, but they always asked me about lipstick. There was this interest, but there was this fear, so I thought, why don't I create a line that lowers that barrier?'
The starting point with Rouge Coco, as with other lipsticks, was the formula. 'I wanted all the elements together - the hydration, the comfort, long-lasting. Then I created the shades.'
Philips has been working with colour for many years. He graduated from Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1993 but gravitated toward make-up after he witnessed the work backstage at a pr?t-?-porter fashion show.
'I became a freelance make-up artist, and was one for 15 years. I did very well, working in New York and doing major shows for Givenchy, McQueen, Fendi, Jil Sander and many others. Everything I did before helped me to be where I am now.'
His path to Chanel was a gradual one. The company had seen Philips' work in high-end magazines. 'After seeing my portfolio, I was booked for Chanel beauty campaigns,' he says. 'I had already worked for Karl Lagerfeld for shows and shootings, so he knew my work.'
Five years ago, Philips started a slow 'engagement' with the company under the tutelage of long-term Chanel make-up directors Dominique Moncourtois (the last employee to have been hand-picked by Chanel herself) and Heidi Morawetz, who had done the job for 30 years.
'I can't change the Chanel range overnight,' he says. 'I took over a well-oiled machine. Slowly, I am working on it, step by step.'
With the Rouge Coco line, for instance, Philips wanted to use the basis of Chanel's existing lipsticks but refresh the formula and introduce some new colours. This proved to be a lengthy process. Some formulas don't work as well with some of the shades, so Philips worked with the laboratory chemists for almost two years.
'With some of the colours, it took 80 tries to get the right shade with the same texture and sensation on the lips.'
Sometimes, the creativity of the chemists has to be challenged, says Philips. When he wanted to create a Les 4 Ombres eyeshadow, Philips mixed pigments of his own to show the chemists, or used a piece of fabric, a gem, even a piece of plastic as examples of colours. Now, Philips is working on a new foundation. By the time it is released, it will be about three years in the making, including the packaging concepts. Fortunately, Philips says, if an idea comes before a marketing concept, he often has the freedom to pursue it.
'Most brands are guided by marketing teams,' says Philips. 'Chanel's strength is that it is not guided by marketing. There is no marketing team in the world that would come up with a jade green nail polish.'