Whitney Peak Just Told Us All About Being Chanel’s New Muse
After a long pause, Peak, who arguably could also be described as an embodiment of that complexity, lands with something that isn’t far off Polge’s idea. Perhaps this is because, just like Gabrielle Chanel herself, to whittle the scent down to a single note would be inadequate and frankly impossible. “There’s a mystique, a mystery,” says Peak dreamily about Coco Mademoiselle. “It doesn’t paint too big or full a picture. It leaves room for the imagination for women to embody the fragrance in their own individuality, however they want their own personality to shine through. And when you have the right fragrance, it gives you an air of confidence. There is a beautiful duality to it.”
All that said, Peak believes the scent, just like the rest of the work created by Gabrielle Chanel, simply speaks for itself. Referencing her own work, whether in an acting role or using her platform to represent her generation, she says, “It doesn’t require a lot of talking about yourself to convince people to support you. … I think your work should speak for itself.”
Still, Peak understands the importance of having a strong support network. “I think moving to New York at 17, being on a show like Gossip Girl—where it’s portraying an elite lifestyle—and getting exposure to so many things and experiences… I think it is easy to get lost in the scene, in Hollywood.” When she talks about “keeping people around you that feed your soul,” she is referring to her family as well as her “little New York family,” which is made up of her high school best friend as well as creatives who have “extensively grown my taste in everything from literature to French cinema.” Gabrielle Chanel’s own circle of support consisted of poets, musicians, artists and actresses such as Misia Sert, Igor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau, Sergei Diaghilev and even Pablo Picasso. “She was a much better networker than me,” jokes Peak. “But I loved that she left room for socializing, that she networked, that she was very smart about every relationship and encounter she had.”
The challenges the digital age presents in developing deeper meaningful connections are not lost on Peak. On the one hand, “you have access to almost everything immediately, all the time. There’s really no genuine encounters anymore because if you’re curious about somebody, you just look them up,” she says. On the other hand, “it has made a lot of information accessible and has also become a source of education and knowledge about certain things we wouldn’t have necessarily heard of. And it is your choice whether you choose to bring up certain conversations on there. You don’t necessarily agree with everybody, so there is always going to be that. But there’s beauty in debate and conversation. You can agree to disagree and have separate opinions,” she adds.
As one would expect, Peak has no qualms in speaking candidly on thorny issues—be it on gender or social justice. But as Peak explains, almost baffled at the very idea, it is certainly not strategic. “I don’t think about it,” she says earnestly. “I’m just existing and living in my truth and sharing my values. As much as you can speak out and be vocal about certain things, sometimes, it is more important just to act on it and just to do it and let it speak for itself. I’m never consciously trying to present a certain version of myself. I just hope if it makes sense to me, then someone else is going to resonate with it. We—this generation, my generation—are all trying to do our best to do whatever we can do to help move things forward.”
Still, as she embarks on this new journey marking a significant new chapter in her life, Peak is excited, refusing to allow anything to dampen her optimism. “If you look for negativity in anything, you’ll always find it, so you just have to put yourself out there. I mean, let’s face it,” she says, beaming as she refers to her new role. “This does not happen every day.” So she continues to be fuelled by the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel. Mulling over what she’d like her own legacy to be, Peak once again displays her jesting spirit. “Wouldn’t it be funny if my legacy was that I smelt good?” she says. And then as if by magic, Peak exhibits that concept of duality she used to describe the Coco Mademoiselle fragrance. She takes a moment to be still with her thoughts and then responds with a beautiful sincerity: “Honestly, I think it’s simple. I hope people think that I never tried to be anything other than myself.” Just like Coco.