Peter Philips: Chanel's golden boy

Two decades ago, Peter Philips never realised you could get paid to put lippy on; now he's got the biggest budget in make-up and the world is his compact

They say that nail varnish, like chocolate, is a treat women can still afford when the economy stumbles. If that's the case, there'll be a stampede when the most indulgent crunch-busting purchase of the day, Chanel's Gold Fiction, hits counters at the end of the month. Chanel has made blood-coloured, black and even navy-blue nails the very definition of chic (for under £20 a pop). Its latest colour isn't for the faint-hearted either. Paint it on and your hands appear literally gilded. But it's not only what's inside that counts. Packaged in a heavyweight glass bottle with a glossy, black squared-off plastic cap, the Modernist sans-serif letters on each and every product spell out a name that, to women everywhere, translates as grown-up glamour: C-H-A-N-E-L.

The closest most of us get to owning a piece of Chanel, one of the world's most successful and fiercely guarded luxury brands, is its lipstick, nail polish or a bottle of its bestselling No5 perfume. So the person who creates those desirable items is, in artistic terms at least, in charge of the greater part of its business.

That person is now Peter Philips, the new global creative director of Chanel make-up, a softly-spoken Belgian with dark blond hair and a calm demeanour. Replacing Dominique Moncourtois and Heidi Morawetz, long-time co-directors of Chanel's beauty division (Moncourtois had been the last employee to have been hand-picked by the late Mlle Chanel herself), Philips has inherited a legacy of luxurious packaging and technical innovation.

In many ways, he's not the obvious choice. A graduate of the prestigious Antwerp Academy (where a generation of Belgian fashion talent, including Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, studied), Philips abandoned fashion design to take up a career in make-up after working as a "dresser" backstage at the prêt-à-porter shows in Paris. "I saw the make-up teams and realised you could make a living out of doing that. For me, make-up had always been associated with beauty parlours. I always did my friends' make-up in the 1980s; they'd ask, 'Can you do my eyes?' and I was good at it. So when I realised that in fashion you could also do make-up, I was intrigued." Philips began to work on shoots and at shows, although he notes he was "very selective" with whom he collaborated.

After a decade at the top of the industry, he had gained a reputation as one of fashion's best avant-garde talents – albeit one associated with menswear shoots (he's close friends with men's fashion star Raf Simons) and the edgier style mags. Forget cover girls with pretty-pretty pink cheeks and smoky eyeshadow; one of the most enduring images Philips has produced was a portrait of a male model, his face obscured by an enormous cartoon Mickey Mouse. "It was spontaneous," he recalls of that session. "But when we showed the picture to other people, their jaws just dropped."

Until now, itinerant hardly sums up Philips's lifestyle as a hard-working session artist – "I don't know where I live really. Hotels..." In demand by every star photographer, the 40-year-old was not in the market for the quiet corporate life of an in-house role at a beauty brand. But the top job at Chanel is a mantle that Philips treats very seriously, not to say emotionally. The prolonged period of negotiation he had with the company was, he says, akin to "an engagement. It's a commitment. But now we are married. Everything at the house of Chanel is intimate, it's like a family."

Working from an airy studio in Paris and the company's laboratory, Philips now collaborates with Karl Lagerfeld on Chanel's catwalk shows and advertising imagery. He's bubbling over with excitement at the R&D side of his new job. With the infinite budgets of Chanel at his disposal, Philips can now develop new products "from scratch to end product, so if I have an idea – say, a 'floating foundation' – I can get people on to doing research into that. Or if I want to change the pigments we use, I can get our team to work on the formulas. I'm not a chemist – but now I've got a team working for me to do that."

The first of his products for the brand, including that gold nail polish, go on sale later this month. Don't expect a radical revision of classic Chanel products. Any visible changes to the brand will be "very subtle – unlike the other beauty brands, Chanel doesn't have to reinvent itself every five years, because it's so classic".

Instead, he promises his labs will continue to produce the hysteria-inducing "star" products that set trends everywhere. "I remember when they did Rouge Noir, I was a kid in those days, and you couldn't find a dramatic red. Suddenly, Chanel did Rouge Noir – a colour that other brands would be afraid of. When Chanel did it, it was a classic. The same with the black polish."

One of his predecessors, the genteel Moncourtois, stayed in this job for several decades. Does Philips believe this could be a marriage for life? "I never really plan anything," he insists. "Three years ago I would never have dreamt that I'd be at Chanel. But, if I'm happy with it, maybe I can stay here till I'm 80."

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Cover Supervisor

    £75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam