Peter Philips never met a red lipstick he didn’t love. The creative and image director of Dior Makeup even credits a classic crimson pout with drawing him into makeup artistry in the first place. That is why his latest launch—a modern reboot of Dior’s iconic Rouge Dior lipstick, available December 26 on Dior.com and at all Dior retailers on January 15, is one of his favorite projects to date for the house. Sandra Ballentine chats with Philips about his pouty new baby. 

Rouge Dior is such an iconic product for the house—it was introduced by Monsieur Dior himself in 1953. A lot went into this update. How long did it take?

The first rough conversations were probably three years ago, and then you start fine-tuning, developing the whole theme behind it, including marketing and strategy, and what have you. We ask, what is manageable? Will our factories be able to produce the number of shades we want? There’s a whole practical element. And then we need to think about the formula. So it was roughly three years from start to finish.

My first thought is, yikes, you started working on a major lipstick launch three years ago, and now that it’s finally time to unveil it, we’re all wearing face coverings!

I mean, honestly, when the whole Covid thing started, I was like, oh my god, how am I going to talk about 75 lipstick shades when there’s a pandemic and everybody’s wearing masks? I said, this is tricky, but look, the shades are there, they’re fantastic, and we have to stay positive. 

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I’m obsessed with that gorgeous-smelling, super-hydrating Rouge Dior lip balm. Did you formulate it as a reaction to the chapped lips we are all getting from wearing masks, or was it always part of the range?

No, no, absolutely I was being reactive. It’s a genius product. I’ve been using it at shoots and shows, including Kim Jones’s recent show for Dior Homme. It’s super versatile, so I also use it on the skin because it makes skin look really hydrated. It’s 95 percent natural, and gives a beautiful glow when it goes on the cheekbones.

Which of the 75 shades is your absolute favorite?

It’s kind of hard to pick favorites, because it depends on your skin tone, so my favorite color for you might not be my favorite color for someone else. But as an object on its own, it’s all about Rouge 999. It’s Dior’s iconic red, and it’s the only shade we have in all four finishes—velvet, matte, satin, and metallic. For a makeup artist, that’s fun. I’ve also been using Rouge Dior 720 a lot—it’s called Icon, and it’s a rich brick red in the velvet finish. It’s a really beautiful shade because you can do an amazing, perfectly drawn lip, which is very sophisticated, or you can do it as a lip stain.

There’s nothing worse than getting lipstick all over the inside of your mask. Is Rouge Dior long-lasting?

It’s super long-lasting, but I’m vigilant about making a non-transfer claim. However, we’re working on a formula...I don't know if I can tell you all this. We’re actually working on a formula, which is really non-transfer. So I tell people this formula doesn't transfer—nobody’s going to believe me when I come out with my real non-transfer lipstick.

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Courtesy of Parfums Christian Dior

One of the first things women will reach for the day when mask-wearing is no longer a thing is…lipstick!

I agree. Women love a lipstick not only because of the makeup look others see, but also for the taste, the texture, and the smell. When you apply the perfect lip balm or a beautiful tube of lipstick, it just completes you, like that little extra you give yourself in the morning.

I was pleased to hear that Dior Rouge is refillable. And apparently the original 1953 version was refillable, too. Is sustainability becoming more and more important in the Dior Beauty ecosystem?

Absolutely. Like I said, it’s key—and not only for Dior, for everything. It was one of the first things we thought of for this launch. I went through the archives and zoomed in on the heritage of the house, and used the fact that the original 1953 version was refillable to convince our team that this one should be, too. Because it’s part of the Dior DNA. It’s simple things like that...little steps that actually will help the bigger picture. I’m also working on other products that will be refillable, products with recycled packaging, and products that use materials which can be recycled.

Many of us have changed our makeup habits. You’ve probably been asked this ad nauseam, but what is your prediction for how we will use makeup after the mask? 

I don’t think people will rush to do a full face because I think we’ve also gotten used to wearing less makeup now. So, actually, for a lot of people, it will be a slow step in rediscovering makeup. I compare it to our clients in the Middle East. Many of them wear veils in public, but nonetheless they buy and wear a lot of lipstick. They wear it in private. At the moment, I think a lot of women around the world are approaching it like that: we have a masked life and an unmasked life. 

You always have great stories. Do any come to mind when you think of your years in fashion and beauty? Maybe a fun moment you recall from a shoot or campaign?

I can tell you about when I used to work with Karl Lagerfeld. I loved working with him, but he was always late. Call time would be 10 a.m., and he wouldn't arrive until four in the afternoon. We would do our looks while waiting, because Karl loved it when you offered him a look. So we would have time to play and do a look, and then Karl would come around. “Oh, it looks amazing, Mr. Philips,” he would say. “You did great. Oh, I love the hair.” So you’d know that would be the look. Then he would disappear. You could not make him wait. So we would drill the stylist, saying, “Okay, we have to make sure that you know all the outfits, and then we would dress the model, and wait for Karl to come back from another meeting or from whatever it was he had to do. Then, maybe at six, he’d suddenly appear, and we would chat with him, and he would guide the model to the set, and he would say, “oh, amazing,” and start taking pictures. The strategy was that, okay, once a picture was done, two people would rush the model backstage. She would literally change in a flash, and we would all entertain Karl to keep him occupied. We would make sure the model was changed and dressed in two minutes and call her back on the set so Karl would continue shooting. If you weren’t quick, he would disappear again, and be gone until nine. At least.

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Courtesy of Parfums Christian Dior

He was probably playing with Choupette.

We got into a routine with those shoots, and we would laugh so much about it. In the beginning, when I first started to shoot with Karl, I didn’t get it. I was like, wait, he’s gone again. But then you would find the inspiration and the theme. At the end, when the last shot was done, we’d be like, oh my God, we made it. Sometimes we would finish at three in the morning.

Another fun moment was the first time I worked with Bella Hadid. She was known already but was in the beginning of her career. She had never really done a big, conceptual beauty story. I think it was a Monday shooting, and it was the evening of the Met Ball. She had to leave at a certain time to go to the party. The inspiration of the story was paintings and artists like Picasso, Keith Haring. My first makeup look on Bella was quite dramatic. She looked in the mirror like, who is this guy? What is he doing to me? And it’s fun because, I mean, to do makeup on a girl that beautiful who had never done that kind of shoot before, well, we bonded straight away, perhaps because she was so unsure about it. There was a trust, and later on, she said, “I thought you were crazy. I was like, what are you doing to my face? This was my first beauty story, and I thought I looked like a clown, but then the pictures were fantastic.”

Those are the moments that are fun—when you do unexpected things and you click with the model you are working with. The makeup-chair relationship is a very intimate one. The person who is sitting there, whether it’s a big model, a new model or a celebrity, is literally putting her face in your hands, trusting you to make her look beautiful. It’s a very delicate situation, and it has to click because you are touching their face.

Are you nostalgic for parties past? Are there one or two that stand out?

Oh, definitely. The most memorable was actually the first big party I ever organized. I never was a big party animal. I would go out with friends in school, and we would go to nightclubs and bars and whatever, but I didn't drink, and I’ve never done drugs in my life. But, for my 30th birthday, which was a long time ago, my friend Frank, who was also turning 30, said, let’s organize a party to celebrate our birthdays. We were both in Antwerp but had totally different friends. I had started to work as a makeup artist, so I knew a lot of people in fashion in Belgium. Everybody had to come dressed up as their idol, and the whole thing kind of got a little out of hand. Seven hundred fifty people came, and 90 percent were dressed up. I mean, I’d never done drag in my life. I said, okay, I’m turning 30, I’m still thin. Oh, wait—I didn't go in drag to that one. Hold on. I have my parties mixed up. For my 30th birthday party, I actually went as Zorro. I had this one dress-up party when I was a kid, and I dressed up as Zorro. I said, okay, for my 30th, I’m going to do it again. I will dress as a very elegant, slim Zorro! It was the best party ever. It was genius.

We had two Addams Families who didn't know each other. The people who dressed in the same theme kind of connected and hung out all night. It was the days of Madonna and Pamela Anderson, and I think there were six or seven Madonnas and two Pamela Andersons. We had Raf Simons as Edward Scissorhands. One guy came dressed as a man from Atlantis. He brought with him a little blow-up swimming pool, you know, for kids, and filled it up with water. He was dancing like crazy, and every half hour or so, he would jump into his pool. He was soaking wet. It was hilarious. Olivier Theyskens came with a whole gang dressed in his first collection as a group of fantasy creatures. One of my stylist friends came as Frida Kahlo in her painting, “The Wounded Deer.” She was in a wheelchair, with the arrows and she had the stag antlers on her head—totally genius. 

And actually, because it was such a big success, we organized another party, a black and white party, except we sent out invitations to 10 people to come in red. That was the first time I did drag. I went as My Fair Lady when she was at Ascot. It was really difficult to move in that dress. I felt like I couldn't go to the restroom on my own, so I didn't drink all night. I had one orange juice. Those are the kind of parties I would like to go back to if I could rewind the years.

I can’t wait to go to a “Covid is Officially Over” party. What are your holiday plans?

Last Saturday, I jumped in my car filled with presents and drove to Antwerp. I’ve got a house in the country just across from my parents’ place, and because of the pandemic I’ve only seen my mom and stepdad from a distance. I haven’t been able to give her a hug or anything, and she really misses us, so we’re staying across the street for two weeks. We will eat, go for walks and play cards. Just low-key family time.

Party or no party—what’s a great holiday makeup look this season?

You can go very natural or very glamorous. If you decide to go glam, there are lots of beautiful sparkles and some great formal looks on the Dior website for some inspiration. I say pamper yourself. Get yourself a beautiful gift.

Related: Dior’s Peter Philips Combats Digital Fatigue by Making Collages