The Ugandan-born Canadian actress and model, Peak has only just turned 20 which may seem very young for the starring role of a brand with such heritage and legacy as Chanel. But Thomas du Pré de Saint Maur, head of Global Creative Resources for Chanel Fragrance, Beauty, Watches and Jewelry, says, long-time ambassador Keira Knightley’s relationship with Chanel started when she was just 22 and the founder of the brand, Coco Chanel was only 19 when she arrived in Paris to pursue her dreams.
Knightley has become synonymous with the fragrance thanks to a 16-year association (having taken over from Kate Moss in 2007), but Thomas believes the time is right to refresh the campaign. “There’s a moment where the whole thing becomes a bit too expected,” he explains. “I felt we needed to go a bit further, not because it didn’t work anymore, but I just had the feeling that we could get more out if it if we changed things, if we started a new chapter. So, we started asking questions: Is it time for a new face? Time to have a dialogue with somebody new?”
After the iconic faces of Moss and Knightley, it couldn’t have been easy to find a muse that can do the brand justice, but Whitney Peak ticks all the boxes.
She is no stranger to Chanel, having served as the brand ambassador for the US market and muse of the 22 Handbag campaign. And she is, obviously, beautiful. “Physically she is graceful. She has this sense of harmony in her face, which is quite extraordinary,” marvels Thomas. “When somebody photographs very well, let’s just say it makes everybody’s jobs easy!”
Thomas also believes Whitney brings an authenticity to the role. “An actress is a role of composition, but if the role is already in the blood, it makes it more credible. The generation we’re addressing are great believers, but they have this amazing capacity to detect when it’s genuine or not.”
Add to that a common desire to work together – a key consideration for Thomas. And then of course, Whitney has that X factor.
“It was just obvious to me that she was the right one. She has that contagious, positive energy. She’s disarming. There’s no way you can resist her positive way of engaging with you. It’s the ability to force without a plan, the ambience of a room, a discussion, a relationship… I guess the real Coco Mademoiselle was like that.”
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel herself was not yet 20 when she first arrived in Paris, inexperienced but with a disarming charm and an appetite for adventure and new experiences. It’s this ‘arrival’ in Paris and experience of newness that is the story of the new commercial, where you will see Whitney interacting with people and embracing the moment. Her infectious spirit is the embodiment of today’s youth and it is this young adult life that is the core of the story, explains Thomas. “It’s about that time where you still have everything ahead of you. You have no experience in life, but you have a fierce belief that destiny is on your side, and you embrace life with an appetite. This is what Coco was about, what Keira was at that time and this is what Whitney is now.”
Peak’s connection with Coco Mademoiselle goes beyond her initial encounter with the scent. “I’ve gotten to build a relationship with Coco Mademoiselle that overlaps any experience I’ve ever had with the fragrance before. It’s not often that you get to learn how the perfume you wear is made.
Peak’s way of wearing the fragrance is nothing short of ritualistic. “When I get out of the shower, I put my moisturiser on, I do my oil, I put my fragrance on and I also put it on my clothes and on my hair. Without [my fragrance] I am incomplete. When I’m complete, I can fully give myself.”
Ultimately the message behind the Coco Mademoiselle story hasn’t changed. It is the story of a young woman who was adamant that the only person who could decide for her, was her. She refused to accept that society would decide on her behalf or that somebody else could better understand her than herself.
What has changed is the way the story is being told in 2023. “It’s a beautiful story that still applies today, an amazing legacy to the world,” says Thomas. “And that is the legacy I wanted to feature.”