Chanel Makeup Guru Peter Philips on What Inspires Him

As Chanel's global creative director of makeup, Peter Philips probably holds what Vogue's Sarah Brown once called “the most coveted job in cosmetics." Not only that but he's also created some of the most startling makeup displays in runway history.

In 2009, he used the most extreme products in Chanel's arsenal to create the clownish, Leigh Bowery–inspired makeup of Alexander McQueen's audacious Bauhaus-meets-Dior showing.

Although the Belgian-born Philips has earned a reputation for defying orthodox cosmetology, he tells in a new video interview that getting women to actually wear his creations is his ultimate goal.

And, he reveals, the roots of his interest in makeup are charmingly down-to-earth: His mother accidentally inspired his career path.

“I used to love watching my mom put on her makeup,” he recalls with a smile. From observing her morning rituals, he quickly gained a sense of a woman's cosmetics priorities. “She had a fast routine,” he says. “She wasn't over the top—but she always looked amazing.”

Ironically, it took years before she allowed her son to touch her face.

“She was going to a ball and finally asked me,” Philips says. “I don't mean to brag, but when my father saw her, he told her, 'My God, you look 15 years younger!'”

Having already satisfied his most important client, Philips went on to take the industry by storm, eventually earning his way backstage into some of Paris Fashion Week's most illustrious shows before graduating to the exalted position he holds today at Chanel.

From watching the video, it becomes clear Philips views his craft as a special artist hybrid, where the sciences of light and sculpture can be manipulated at will. He finds purity in early black-and-white films, calling its subjects “iconic,” and says he applies those cinematic standards to his own work.

“I always look at a woman's face in black and white,” he says. “I study its shape. Then I sculpt it with foundation before applying color.”

Philips even likens the whole cosmetic process to photography.

“I had the great fortune to work with Irving Penn a few times,” he says. “After shooting in daylight, I learned that if you know how to sculpt light, that almost anyone can look fabulous!”

Plus, check out this fun video of Chanel products coming to life.