PEAK HOUR

PEAK HOUR

Let’s face it, Whitney Peak, star of the “Gossip Girl” reboot, is everybody’s crush.

Volume 6
Photography CASS BIRD
Styling TAYLOR MCNEILL
Story JANELLE OKWODU
Makeup ROMY SOLEIMANI
Hair NAEEMAH LAFOND
Casting GREG KRELENSTEIN 

 

Iridescent tweed jacket, tweed pants, calfskin with gold-tone metal & glass pearl suspenders and sequined two-toned pumps.


Whitney Peak plays the part of high schooler so well it's easy to mistake her for one. As a late fall chill sweeps through Manhattan, Peak is crossing Fifth Avenue in tartan jumper and knee socks, her buzz-cut co-star Jordan Alexander clinging to her arm. The two are filming what will become the series premiere of the "Gossip Girl" reboot, an update on the soapy adventures of Upper East Side prep school students. Alexander, in her knee-high cowboy boots and fanny pack, has the air of a model- off-duty. But it's Peak, toting a water bottle and face mask, who looks like she could slip seamlessly into Spence or a block down at the Nightingale-Bamford School where Cecily von Ziegesar, who created the series, spent her formative years. 

Iridescent tweed jacket, stretch lace bodysuit, and metal, strass & glass crystal choker.

Peak's character, Zoya Lott, is a naïf from upstate New York, a sheep in a den of high society wolves whose arrival in the city is tainted by a dark secret. By contrast, at the age of 18, Peak, who moved to New York City by herself in the middle of the pandemic to work on "Gossip Girl", has already had enough life experience to have acquired a thick skin and streetwise attitude. When we sit down to talk, she's frank in her assessment of Hollywood's pitfalls, having lived through many of them herself. "There are so many ups and downs," she says. "One of my first experiences was this alleged Disney casting that turned out to be a scam. I went through the audition, all the callbacks, signed contracts, but they were just hustling people. At the time, I was so bummed, but I knew I had to keep going." 

Stretch lace bodysuit and grosgrain & patent calfskin high boots.

The child of a Ugandan hairdresser and Canadian engineer, Peak immigrated with her family to British Columbia from Kampala, Uganda, in 2012. Raised on Kinaganda films and dubbed versions of Hollywood fare, she understood entertainment as a form of escapism (not to mention cultural dislocation). "My mom would put on movies narrated by Ugandan speakers, and they're incredibly dramatic," she says. "We would be watching The Girl Next Door but with an African man yelling the words over it to tell us what was going on. It was always hilarious and a reminder of home." 

Stretch lace bodysuit, metallic lambskin trench coat and metal choker and patent calfskin high boots.

Canada was a huge culture shock. "I grew up predominantly around dark-skinned Black people, so I was the person who seemed different," Peak explains. "In Canada everyone saw me as Black. That shaped their perceptions [especially] in public school, which was a whole other train wreck." 

Viscose jumpsuit and transparent resin, strass & glass pearl cuff. On Paloma: Cashmere beanie and lambskin, mirror & metal vanity. Model's own dress.

"Gossip Girl" is rife with similar rude awakenings, but for Peak, the show's willingness to address issues of race is part of its appeal. "It's liberating," she says. "The people that created the show can't speak for every character because they haven't lived all of those experiences, but what's wonderful is that when you come into the room as a person of color, all your suggestions are welcome. We
have lived it, and those experiences let you know how certain characters would react in a traumatic situation; it informs who they are as people. When you're empowered to share, to move things around and work together to make [scenes] better, it's refreshing." 

Tweed jacket & tweed and metal handbag.

Since the series debuted in July, Peak has become a hot commodity. A newly minted Chanel ambassador, she's graduated from emulating her hip-hop style icons--Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Pharrell--to incorporating pieces from the French house into her everyday wardrobe and giving them her own twist. "On the runway, Chanel's clothes look so very sophisticated, and it caters to a certain woman," says Peak. "I get into a fitting, and I'm like, 'oh, I think this is dope. What if I just wore it ten times too big? Or what if I just wore this with a pair of pants that I own?' We mix things up, and it turns out fly. They've been so good about letting me try new things--eclectic doesn't even begin to describe my style."

The next time I see Peak, she's back on Fifth Avenue, only this time she's walking the steps of the Met Gala dressed in Chanel Haute Couture sequins and ruffles, her voluminous afro swaying as she poses for photographers. Flanked by fellow Chanel muses Lily-Rose Depp and Kristen Stewart, Peak fits right in, her latest in what promises to be a long career rife with transformations. "Acting can make you feel like you've lived a billion lives and are constantly stepping into a new persona, but that's the challenge," she says. "You're constantly evolving, and that's what makes doing this so entertaining."

Calfskin with gold-tone metal & glass pearl suspenders Chanel Fine Jewelry Coco Crush and Camelia rings.

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