Chanel’s Creative Director of Make-up Peter Philips is the Willy Wonka of the cosmetics world. On a hot summer’s day in Paris, journalists from across the globe descend on the upmarket suburb of Neuilly, just outside the French capital, to catch their first glimpse of the new autumn make-up collection, which goes on sale on Friday. It’s as if we’ve all won a golden ticket to the factory where our favourite cosmetic confections are produced.
In small groups, the beauty writers are shown into a long penthouse room which is gleaming, glossy white from ceiling to (white patent) floor. There is nothing in this room – down both sides of which are continuous windows offering stunning views across Paris – apart from a series of TV screens on a wall at the bottom. In front of these screens, is a curved white bar with high stools on which we are all invited to sit. And behind the bar is Philips himself, Wonka-like (more Gene Wilder than Johnny Depp, thankfully) in his enthusiasm and sense of theatricality – but with a touch of the Wizard of Oz about him as well.
Once everyone is comfortably perched on the stools, a squad of assistants – all clad in black and sporting a slash of red lipstick – materialise holding glossy white coffrets which they set down in front of the journalists and open with great aplomb. To gasps of delight from the press corps, the new season colours are revealed – and everyone reaches for the first nail polish or eye shadow to catch their eye. And there’s certainly plenty of choice…
The Autumn 2011 collection is entitled Illusions d’Ombres de Chanel and was inspired by the precious materials used by the “Artistic Creation Houses” , the legendary houses which specialise in the traditional crafts used in couture: embroidery, decorative feathers and flowers, beading and so on, and which Chanel supports and celebrates in its annual Metiers and Arts show.
At the heart of the autumn range is a new eyeshadow, Illusion d’Ombre (£22.50), a creamy, silicone-based, sparkling formula which glides onto the eyelid (use the applicator brush or your fingers) and can be used as sheer as you like, or built up and blended with another shade for a more dramatic, intense look. There are six colours to choose from, and while the paler shades are pretty, the ones that grab the attention are Ebloui (a reddish-brown), Illusoire (a taupe-grey) and my favourite, Epatant (a greeny-grey, pictured right, which looks great with blue eyes – at least I thought so, when I first wore it out, in May).
Peter Philips is clearly thrilled with his new eyeshadows – and by the journalists’ response to them. “If you are generous with it,” he says, demonstrating how to work the black shade, “it’s fireworks! You can create new and avant-garde looks.” Which is just what he did for the Fall-Winter Ready-to-Wear shows.
Chatting with Peter, I ask him how these new colours had come about – had Chanel’s Creative Director Karl Lagerfeld told him which colours he’d be working with? “The thing is,” he says, “my make-up calendar is a totally different calendar to the fashion one because I work two years ahead. I communicate a lot with Karl but I do my thing, and sometimes it matches and sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, and I don’t have, for example, an autumn collection which links with Karl’s autumn collection, then I can find colours in my main Chanel range… I don’t have to have a launch collection which matches his – but in this case it was a very lucky strike!”
So, does he feel that he and Karl are in tune with one another? “I don’t think we’re of the same mind but a lot of communication goes on – and that helps. I wouldn’t say that I influenced him – it’s more the other way round. I see a lot, I hear a lot, I know the future projects. I’ll run things I’m working on by him to see if they can link in with what he’s doing – for example, the Byzance palette. I showed it to him and told him that it was in the pipeline but could be speeded up if he wanted it. He looked at it and said: ‘It’s fantastic, I’d love to have it linked to the show.’ That put the pressure on, and we produced the limited edition. It was a good synergy.
“Karl mentioned to me once that he would love to do something with tattoos or fake tattoos. When the Marie-Antoinette show in the barn came along, I knew there would be a lot of skin showing, a lot of places for tattoos, so I thought: ‘Okay, let’s do something rebellious like tattoos, but elegant like Marie-Antoinette.’ So I did the jewels like the pearls, and the swallows in tattoo form.”
This season, Peter is proudest of the afore-mentioned Illusions d’Ombre eyeshadows.Why? “Well, I’m very proud of the formula itself – the fact that we can stretch from really intense pigment, colour-wise, like the pitch black , to the more subtle shades. I’m stretching it all the way back to a natural, almost luminous make-up finish. And that, in the same formula, is unusual and something I’m very proud of – the laboratory did an amazing job.”
Of course, the other items pounced upon by the press pack are the new nail varnishes – Le Vernis in Peridot, Quartz and Graphite (£17.50). Quartz is a satiny taupe while Graphite is a glittery silver. The Peridot, I tell him, reminds me of the chartreuse dress worn by the subject of the iconic art deco painting The Girl in Green With Gloves, by Tamara De Lempicka. “I wasn’t thinking of that – more of peacock feathers,” he says, “but yeah-yeah-yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’m very proud of that shade – but it’s kind of obvious because it’s unique.
“My favourite, the one that I really love and which I know a lot of women will adore, is Quartz, the most subtle one. It’s very beautiful. The other two are kind of ‘wow’; this is a bit of a sleeper. You’re not attracted to it in the first moment, because the other two are so bling-bling almost, but Quartz is a slow-burner.”
So there you have it: ladies, form an orderly queue ….
* The Illusions d’Ombres de Chanel collection for Autumn 2011 goes on sale on Friday, August 19. For stockists call 020-7493 3836.