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Peter Philips makes his colorful mark on Chanel

Peter Philips, the label's creative director for makeup, has a way with fashioning the next big shade.

July 03, 2011|By Booth Moore | Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic
  • Chanel's global director of makeup, Peter Philips, finds color inspiration everywhere. The coral on a shopping bag handle will become a nail polish shade.
Chanel's global director of makeup, Peter Philips, finds color inspiration… (Mariah Tauger, Los Angeles…)

One of the biggest beauty breakthroughs in recent years involves the rise of funky nail polish colors — blue, green, gray, even black — which have become socially acceptable for almost all women, no matter their age or occupation. That development is due, in part, to Peter Philips, global creative director of Chanel Makeup, who has made the company's seasonal nail shades as hotly sought after as its handbags.

"I don't say I invented green or orange nail polish," Philips said during a recent interview in Los Angeles. "But by putting those shades in Chanel packaging, you give it credibility. If Chanel makes a surf board, it's cool. Not every brand can do that."

Today's color independence is a far cry from the natural look of the 1990s, when you emphasized your eyes or your lips, but never both. It's a change, too, from the craze for mineral makeup that started in the early 2000s.

"We're seeing a shift back to the well made-up face, and nails are taking on a whole new dimension," said Karen Grant, Vice President and senior global beauty industry analyst for market research firm NPD Group. "Industry leaders look to Chanel for direction…and trends driven by Chanel affect the mass market."

Prices for Chanel makeup are some of the highest in the market, from $25 for a nail color, to $250 for the limited edition Lumieres Byzantines compact. (Only 1,000 were sold worldwide.) But Chanel consistently ranks among the top five selling prestige cosmetics brands, and is number one in the nail color category, despite limiting distribution to roughly 800 doors in the U.S., according to NPD.

While most people can't afford a $4,000 Chanel jacket, they can afford a $27 Chanel lipstick. The brand's striking black-and-gold packaging is an accessible luxury and a big piece of the bottom line for Chanel, as any beauty business is for a fashion brand.

Like Chanel fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, Philips, 44, must walk the line between classic and trendy, making the beauty brand, which has an estimated value of $3 to $4 billion, appeal to young and old.

His first collection was a limited edition set of Barbie bright polishes with names such as L.A. Sunrise and Melrose, to celebrate the opening of the Robertson Boulevard Chanel boutique in 2008. He knew the time was right for shocking shades, he said, because he had noticed people dressing more adventurously. "They were getting more playful with styling, combining designer with high street and vintage with high tech sports gear," he added.

During his three year run, he's produced a number of hit products, including the nail colors Jade, Khaki Brun and Gold Fiction. At least one shade, Particuliere, the putty-colored nail polish from last spring, was created by accident. "They were mixing colors in the lab and I said, 'Stop!,' " Philips recalled. "I thought, 'This is kind of particular. It's not gray and it's not beige, it's kind of weird.' "

Once he had Particuliere in hand, he needed a runway collection in which to place it. Along came Lagerfeld's spring 2010 runway collection (shown in October 2009), set in a barn. "In French, the color is called taupe, which is a kind of animal, a mole," Philips said. "I said, 'Karl, I got a taupe for your barn.' "

(At the same show, Chanel debuted temporary tattoos in the shapes of pearls, flowers and the brand's double C logo. There was a waiting list before they even went on sale.)

This spring, Philips brought a new take to Chanel's lipstick offerings, with the minimal coverage, Rouge Coco Shine collection (including the ingeniously named neutral shade "Boy"). "The idea was to make it easy for young girls to discover lipstick. Because a lot of girls only wear lip gloss. They think lipstick makes them look old." A collection of matte lipsticks, named Rouge Allure Velvet, will follow in November.

The fall 2011 collection hitting stores now features smoky, metallic colors and introduces a new cream eye shadow with a mousse-like texture. The new nail polish shades are iridescent, including Philips' favorite--Peridot. "It changes colors," he said, "like a peacock feather or a beetle wing."

Phillips has always been intrigued by flamboyant creatures. As a kid growing up in Antwerp, Belgium, he spent a lot of time at his stepfather's sandwich shop, which served students at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, including some of the famous "Antwerp 6" fashion designers, namely Ann Demuelemeester and Dirk Bikkembergs.

"I called them the colorful birds of paradise," said Philips, who enrolled in the school's fashion program after studying graphic design for several years.

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