With the announcement of Whitney Peak as the face of the Chanel Coco Mademoiselle fragrance, the legendary House has one eye looking into the past (upon the appointment, Peak was coincidentally the same age as Keira Knightly when Knightly herself fronted the fragrance in 2006) and one staring ahead into the future: Peak is the first Black ambassador of a Chanel scent and continues the legacy of the kind of woman the fragrance has represented for 22 years.
A woman that is as strong-willed as she is soft in her actions and one that is playful in demeanour but assertive when situations get serious. This duality in spirit is a throwback to a young Gabrielle Chanel but according to Head of Global Creative Resources for both Fragrance & Beauty and Watches & Fine Jewellery Thomas du Pré de Saint Maur, Whitney represents a “free-spirited young girl who has no fear” in the Coco Mademoiselle campaign.
Here, he takes us through Coco Mademoiselle’s perpetual popularity, how he shapes the universe of the House and what he loves the most about Whitney Peak.
What does wearing perfume do for women and what do you think makes one popular?
[Laughs] That’s a great question because I think that’s still a question I’m asking myself every day. The first thing that makes a perfume popular is the fact that it has to smell great and that people give you compliments when you wear it.
Next, it depends on the brand of course. If you have a well-formulated fragrance that’s launched by a brand that has a history of producing luxurious things then its popularity is guaranteed.
The third element is that you can believe that a perfume is just a brand, bottle or juice but if you’re like us, it’s also about the imagery and stories behind it. I call it immaterial capital: for example, with N°5, I like to say that a woman who wears it wears a little of Marilyn Monroe on her shoulder. But I also think that a perfume’s popularity over time requires a bit more than just being worn by a celebrity but it’s it’s an interesting question because it is the question everybody’s asking in the industry about how can we make our fragrance last and be popular?
The magic of a perfume’s popularity is that you constantly have to think about what makes sense in the way you communicate its storyline in the period it is in and N°5 is one of the best examples of it.
Why do you think Coco Mademoiselle is as popular today as when it launched in 2001??
Well, I would say it’s the story behind it but again, it’s the juice because it’s still remarkable and noticeable when worn. It has the ability to be chic and sexy which not many perfumes can do but there are also little surprises. You might think that it’s sexy, cool or chic but when it develops, it becomes more sensual.
I also think that the storyline we tell of a young Gabrielle Chanel remains such an inspiring one to people We’re talking about a woman that decided to take control of her life and decided that she will not kneel to the demands of the people who told her to be what they wanted her to be. She was a self-made entrepreneur and I think that’s still appealing to people. The way we’ve been telling it in a non-pretentious way with women like Kate Moss, Keira Knightly, and now, Whitney Peaks remains exciting.
N°5 and Chance are conceptual names for perfumes but Coco Mademoiselle is almost like the plot of a movie and the characters who have personified it are always cool women who you’d want to be friends with.
How do you think Coco Mademoiselle upholds the spirit of Mademoiselle Chanel herself? Personally speaking, I think it has a femininity that is universally recognisable.
We are a French brand and there’s something very French about Coco Mademoiselle but there’s always something very universal about it that’s recognisable all over the globe. There’s a freedom of spirit, independence, and being self-driven that’s not reserved for just the French, Singaporean, Italians or Americans.
I think that every woman can recognise themselves in that very moment when they decide how they want to live their life and I agree with you that it is recognisable worldwide.
Being the head of global creative resources for both Fragrance & Beauty and Watches & Fine Jewellery, are there things you do to keep yourself updated with the latest trends? How does this then integrate into what you create for the universe of Chanel?
It’s complicated, no? With social media and the development of small communities, the former is crazy because you’re always worried that you’re going to miss out on a trend. I think the best way of not missing out on a trend is not being obsessed by them and serenely deciding which ones you’re going to do. You might be missing out on some but that’s not a big deal.
I think that there’s a quality about Chanel where we are above and beyond trends which I believe people recognise. We sometimes might come across more classic and sometimes, not the coolest of rest or the trendiest. We might not even have been the first to do things for over 20 years but we’ve managed to remain a brand that people are thinking of because of how volatile trends are.
If you’re always trying to be the coolest person in a room, there’s a moment when you can become a bit pathetic and that is something I’m trying to protect myself from. So yes, we’re open to talking to people and getting their insights but we are not obsessed about always embracing the latest trends.
The good thing though, is that Chanel has a lot of categories as a brand. We do fragrances, makeup and skincare and for me, I also do watches and jewellery which makes this a great playground. For instance, if we come across a girl or a boy that we find interesting because we saw him starring in a movie or in a series or if he or she is an actor or pop star, I would say there’s always a possibility to do something with them in the upcoming months.
The conceptualisation process for makeup is a little more complicated because there’s an obvious need to constantly rework its concepts because just like fashion, one concept pushes the next. Every collection is an opportunity for exploration and it changes all the time.
For perfumes, we keep their communication for three or four years because if you are too trendy, there is a risk that it goes out of trend very quickly you become out of trend and thus, we don’t change its image. What I try to integrate for them are sociological trends which are longer lasting ones that we also think are interesting. For instance, I brought a man back into the story for the N°5 campaign communications with Marion Cotillard. There’s some kind of a relationship story because I felt that there was a trend where the relationship between men and women needed to be redefined.
On the contrary, I can easily catch the existing moment for makeup and it’s a good thing that I can play with different rhythms at Chanel.
What do you think makes a muse today? What are some qualities you look out for in terms of attitudes and values for Coco Mademoiselle’s muse?
It’s going to sound very shallow but the first I’m looking for in a muse is that I have to be super excited to work with them and they too have to be genuinely excited to work with us. I think that brand communications and especially its advertising with the use of influencers and faces have become so transactional. It’s almost like the world of football. Who’s that or who will be fronting another brand tomorrow?
I think that the younger generation can easily detect when the relationship between the brand and its face is purely transactional. Hence, I just want to have people that are really happy to work with us and not just because we pay well but because they really love the brand. We don’t frequently change our faces because we are very loyal and thus, we want to embark on a relationship with people that we like and vice versa.
The second thing is that when we talk about Coco Mademoiselle, we talk about this character who is a free-spirited young girl who has no fear as I would say. I would define her as somebody that goes somewhere where she doesn’t know people but has no fear about engaging with them. That’s what Coco Mademoiselle is about: having an appetite to explore the world.
When we choose the face of the perfume, we were wondering about who is the actress we felt good about as a person instead of the roles she’s been playing. When we chose Keira to front Coco Mademoiselle nearly 20 years ago, she had just done Bend It Like Beckham and she was a cool and fun girl just like Whitney Peak.
I remember the first time I met her, she spoke to everybody and was super cool and curious. She felt at ease immediately but it didn’t feel forced. She was what we were exactly looking for: somebody that genuinely felt happy and excited to work with us.
What do you like the most about Whitney Peak and what was the first thing you noticed about her that made you think she would be perfect as the muse for Coco Mademoiselle?
She has generosity about herself and she tells you what she likes and what she doesn’t. She doesn’t come across like she has a plan and I got the feeling that she tried to make the most out of what we wanted from her and there’s something that I like about that ability to live in the moment and be
fully immersed in it.
She has a very “let’s go” kind of attitude where she wants to make things happen. These people have a mentality where they realise what journey life has put them on and they want to make the most out of it. I also think that then she’s incredibly beautiful of course and the camera loves which I think is important.
I love that she’s at the beginning of her life and when I say that, I mean that she doesn’t have a gigantic experience with it. Obviously, because she’s young but has a very serene and positive way of living it. It moved me and before being the face of Coco Mademoiselle, she fronted a bag campaign while being a fashion ambassador for America so I could observe her.
Even if you’re a great actress like she is, it’s quite impressive joining Chanel because you join an institution and a brand that can be a bit, you know, distant and heavy. I’m always interested to
see how these adults manage the weight of Chanel because it’s a very heavy brand.
You know, if you think about who’s been the face in our history, you know that it’s a big moment for them but Whitney was very at ease.
Did you conceptualise the Coco Mademoiselle campaign around Whitney Peak or the other way around? As she is an actress herself, what did she bring to the table? Were there moments when she surprised you?
You know what? It depends a lot on the people we work with. For instance, we had the story for Coco Mademoiselle in our head but once we knew who was its face, we tailored the story with her in mind but it doesn’t mean that we did so around her.
Obviously, we knew what kind of character she was but when we signed Whitney, I realised that we could push and pull certain parts of her and sometimes, we even do that conversation with the face if the situation requires it. We didn’t do so with Whitney but we always have to adapt to our faces as a team because the campaign has to be credible to a younger generation who are great at detecting when a campaign feels true or fake.
The story of the commercial is about the positive spirit of Coco Mademoiselle because she is a woman that changes the energy of a room when she enters it. She has a great way of interacting with the people in it and then having them look at the world differently so it was interesting to see how Whitney played the role while interacting with actors that she has never worked with before.
She completely changed the mood of the set and brought the story to life. The actors were all happy after she came on set and so in a way, Whitney carries herself with that ability and it surprised me because that was a role she had to play but it was her own personality that enabled her to do so.
I love being around her because I can feel her positive energy even when she’s in another room giving interviews as of right now.
Lastly, how do you envision the legacy of the House’s perfumes to evolve in the future? Where do you plan to take it?
Honestly, I don’t know because I’m always trying not to be too obsessed about the future while trying to live in the present because I believe that that’s very important.
I think we live in a world where there’s a lot of fear and complexities which makes the younger generation reluctant about exploring it. Hence, I do hope that the legacy of Coco Mademoiselle continues to uphold its legacy of giving confidence. I don’t know if it makes sense but I hope that women continue to love it because it gives them the confidence that there’s nothing to lose and that they can explore the world while making the most out of their experiences.
If Coco Mademoiselle could be that little thing that they keep around them for reassurance then yes,
that’ll be good. I think that it and other fragrances can be like armor that protects you, but it’s also something that pushes you cause it’s not just something that you retreat behind. In the Latin language, there is this word called viaticum which is a provision you carry on a journey to protect, stimulate and remind you about your believes. I think that’s what a fragrance should be.
The Chanel Coco Mademoiselle fragrance range is available at all Chanel stores and on their online store.