02.12.2021

Gossip Girl reboot stars Jordan Alexander and Whitney Peak, seeing Black trauma on TV

Julien played by Jordan Alexander is an influencer and rising model, daughter of a famous musician, and the top trendsetter at NYC’s most exclusive high school – Constance.

Her super-smart younger half-sister Zoya Lott, played by Whitney Peak, is coy but strong-willed and while the pair grow to share a sibling rivalry, they’d made a pact to convince their father to let Zoya move to Manhattan from the quieter streets of Buffalo, New York and try to commit to sticking by their decision.

Since it hit BBC iPlayer last month Gossip Girl stans have been binging on the new reboot and can’t get enough of the refreshed, diverse and exciting cast now ruling Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It’s been almost 10 years since the show ended and Serena Van Der Woodsen, Blair Waldorf, Chuck Bass, and Nate Archibald have been replaced with new names including Julien Calloway and Zoya Lott.

After modeling a rainbow of Pantone shades for Allure that re-envisions the rainbow using 2021’s best color trends, GLAMOUR caught up with Jordan, 28, and Whitney, 18. In this exclusive interview, they share stories of their lives before Gossip Girl and what impact starring in the show has had on them.

Canadian born, Jordan is also an accomplished musician herself, who has spent a number of years on the Toronto music scene and even opened a concert for American R&B superstar, Kehlani.

Whitney Peak, meanwhile, was born in Uganda and moved to Vancouver at age 10 with her family. Much like her on-screen character, Zoya, Whitney is familiar with feeling like an outsider and discloses how she spent much of her childhood trying to acclimatise with cultural differences due to her move and African upbringing.

But like most of us, both reveal that they were big fans of the OG Gossip Girl and rewatched all six seasons during lockdown. While they may play rival sisters on-screen, Jordan and Whitney have built a friendship off-screen. Here, they discuss their resemblance to their respective GG characters, being riddled with Black trauma, and reveal their biggest beauty mishaps.

Julien is the queen bee of the show but is complex as she fluctuates between being the antagonist and pursuing good. Zoya, meanwhile, is a reserved outsider trying to fit in. Do you identify with your characters in any capacity?

Jordan Alexander: “Depending on where you are in your life and what’s going on, it becomes more difficult to potentially pursue ‘good’ only. When I’m under pressure or if something is really emotionally difficult for me, I could probably see myself sliding down that slippery slope of not doing the ‘right thing’. However, I would like to think that I try a little bit harder than Jullian to avoid those types of situations.”

Whitney Peak: “With Zoya being a bit of an outsider, I can sort of identify with that. The whole coming into a new world – that’s very much me. Moving from Uganda to Canada and then transitioning to public school, and then coming to New York, there are just so many weird parallels in that.”

Which original characters do you both identify with the most?

JA: “I would say maybe, Dan and Jenny. When I was in high school, I was ‘contextually’, not as wealthy as my peers. I went to this very wealthy high school. I had everything I needed and I was just fine, but simply in comparison to everyone else. Dan and Jenny lived in a beautiful loft in Brooklyn, they ate waffles for breakfast, etc… They’re fine. But, contextually with the rest of the cast, they’re bottom of the food chain.”

WP: “I don’t know that I identify with any of them. It’s a different world. When I first started watching the show, I was at school and had a part-time job at Wendy’s and did dance and then I’d come home and watch basketball. It was so far from me, but it sure was entertaining.”

The basis of Gossip Girl characters is that most of them (if not all) have really poor relationships with themselves and then project it onto others. What was your relationship with yourselves growing up and how have you built confidence?

JA: “It’s definitely been a journey. I’ve always been a happy-go-lucky person. My parents would always say: ‘Don’t worry about Jordan. She’s going to be fine.’ So I’ve always really had that disposition. Living in a place where everyone’s more wealthy than me, was probably really beneficial to my growth because it made me want to pursue my own thing and find value in non-materialistic things. My coping mechanisms to get there would be to write manifestos and affirmations. I try my best to be a compassionate and kind friend to myself first. Then it really teaches you to be able to do that to others, not really allowing, jealousy or negative self-talk deconstruct that and if you slip up – it’s fine, you’re working on it.”

WP: “I think Zoya tends to overlook her own wellbeing to make others comfortable and to make others happy because she really does care for her friends and her family deeply, which I think kind of added to my life a little bit. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just, you’ve got to pay attention to yourself sometimes.”

While Jullian is rocking this bad-ass and beautiful buzz-cut through the series, Zoya sported a few different looks all involving her big curly hair. What was your relationship with your hair growing up?

JA: “My natural hair grows upwards and I do have very curly hair but with very complicated mixed textures. I did have really positive experiences with getting braids done and built a really nice, spiritual connection with my hair, but I’m also a really low-maintenance person. Having to think about it all the time was just stressful. When I moved out of my parents’ house and I didn’t have my sisters to help me, I was like: ‘I can’t do this!’ So, one time I was just in my apartment and I got my girlfriend at the time to just shave my head. That was 10 years ago and I haven’t looked back since.”

WP: “My hair is big, and there is a lot of it, my mum’s resolution for everything was putting it in braids. Not like box-braids or cornrows. It was like the four-parting Snoop Dogg braids. You get to a certain point in your teenage years where that’s really not cutting it anymore, where you’re pulling up to school and kids are looking at you differently and you’re not feeling confident. Also, around middle school, I had to learn how to deal with my hair properly, without having to rely on my mom and stepping into my independence a little bit. At 13 my sister gave me my first hair straighteners. I started straightening my hair because it was like an easy fix, but I wasn’t very good at using it, so it was just like a puffy mess and destroyed my curl pattern. I then wanted my curls back, so I started curling my hair to mimic my old curls.”

What have been either of your biggest beauty disasters?

JA: “I remember this one time I put henna in my hair to tint and to ‘condition it’. – Sidenote: Don’t believe everything you hear – I turned my coils into henna dreadlocks. I just remember being on the floor of my room crying…”

WP: “I once had to rush out one night and my hair was not in good condition. I didn’t have time to braid it. I threw my hair in a low bun and put the wig cap on and hoped the hair would just be laid flat. *wishful thinking* and popped the wig on top. When I went out, somebody took a photo of me and the back of it was protruding so far back… I had to run to the bathroom with my friend and she snatched it off and we fixed it, but it was brutal.”

You both have incredible skin, where did you find your love for beauty and where do you get the best beauty tips from?

JA: My partner Shane is amazing with skincare. She’s walked me through my skin issues. I had borderline cystic acne but did nothing about it. I didn’t use actual face soaps and proper moisturisers. Now, I’m obsessing over this J-beauty brand called Hada Labo. I also love the Peach Slices Acne Exfoliating Toner, you just pat it on and it helps prevent and reduce dark spots. My attachment to skincare now is more for self-care. It’s fun, it feels decadent.”

WP: “I learned a lot from my mother. She is a beauty guru and she has way too much fun on the internet. She loves a DIY mask. She’ll just sit there for like 20 minutes and cook something up. I would always laugh at her, but she has impeccable skin. She’s 52 and she looks amazing. Now I’m like, ‘Hey mom, what was that face mask?’ She also got me hooked on L’Occitane. We love the face cream. I also love Tracie Martyn products, their face wash, and toner, and Sunday Riley’s U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil. My secret for pimples is the Mario Badescu Drying Cream. Oh and pimple stickers – Those are life-changing.”

Jordan, how important is it for you to be a vocal advocate for the LGBTQAI+ community? What did it take to step into that power?

JA: “I’ve always felt strongly about it in my personal life, but when I would have people in the music business advising me that maybe I should be more private or whatever, I just accepted that as how business is. I didn’t know much about the business necessarily so I did start to absorb that a little bit. Then over time, you realise that you can make your own choices and decisions. I feel so lucky to have always had a safe space to be open about my life, many can’t. When I got my first girlfriend, it was like a matter of months until I told people about it.”

What important conversations do you think the show brings to the table?

JA: “The show is fantasy and escapism entertainment and it promotes even nuanced things like putting more emphasis on what female relationships look like instead of only falling into that trope that girls just fight over boys all the time, and they have no other personality traits. Our society appears to be peeling back those layers and being like, ‘Yes, women are fully-fledged humans, with a range of interests other than men.’ It’s really exciting as well because for me, growing up, I saw those narratives and really absorbed a lot of them. Also the concept of how Black people and minority groups’ stories are presented into really narrow lenses. We can’t just exist in our most honest, truest selves without being put in a race or sexual orientation box.”

WP: “This is perfect escapism television and it shows Black people just existing, without their blackness being their whole identity. I’m terrible at watching Black trauma. Lately, I feel everything. Anything that I watch, I’m going to be thinking about for days, and then it’s going to make me just hate everybody. I love it when there is a balance of that. The show is light and it’s airy, but it’s also touching on some important underlying issues we face in society.”

If your beauty cabinets were on fire, what would you save?

JA: “My Hada Labo Tokyo Super Hydrator Lotion, their SPF – got to stay protected – and the Peach Slices Acne Exfoliating Toner. I wouldn’t have to save my Milk Melatonin Overnight Lip Mask that I’m obsessed with because it would have already been with me. It’s with me at all times.”

WP: “I would say my Tracie Martyn Amla Purifying Cleanser, some sunscreen because that can double as moisturiser and body oil. Clean your skin, protect it and lather your body in goodness and done. That way you always smell good and you won’t even need anything else…”

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