New Ground: Phoebe Tonkin sets her sights on new horizons

As CHANEL unveils a new era in the form of its sustainably minded beauty collection, N°1 de CHANEL, brand ambassador Phoebe Tonkin is ready to tackle her next phase, too.

Words by Justine Cullen

Phoebe Tonkin sets her sights on new horizons.

Like many young Australian actors, Phoebe Tonkin moved to Los Angeles at age 20 to try her luck. It didn’t quite turn out how she expected. “Everyone who gets into acting has these big aspirations of the different roles they’re going to play and the experiences they’re going to have. I definitely didn’t move to LA thinking I was going to end up in Atlanta for seven years playing the same character for 10 and a half months of every year. It was amazing and I was grateful, but it’s a funny thing to sign a contract when you’re 21 that more or less eats up your entire twenties.”

Sometimes I’ll read stuff in America and I’ll know it’s good, but it’s just not my language, it’s not how I grew up. Then I’ll read an Australian book or script and it’s in my bones. I can smell where it took place, I can taste the foods being described.”

Phoebe Tonkin on Australian storytelling.

Now 32, Tonkin has spent her time since her The Vampire Diaries/The Originals era ended being a little more selective about her projects, which last year included roles in the Damien Chazelle-directed Babylon, starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, and Transfusion with Sam Worthington, which was filmed in Australia. “I love working in Australia. I think there is a specific storytelling that happens. Sometimes I’ll read stuff in America and I’ll know it’s good, but it’s just not my language, it’s not how I grew up. Then I’ll read an Australian book or script and it’s in my bones. I can smell where it took place, I can taste the foods being described. And I actually bought a place in Australia last year because I love working here. I definitely want to keep coming back and making stuff.”

She’s also an ambassador for CHANEL, a relationship she says makes her “incredibly proud”. “It’s a house that really aligns with my values, my tastes, my sense of style, the things that I’m interested in. The way they champion female artists and filmmakers, and empower women in other aspects than just fashion… I think it’s inspiring.” 

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For most of us, being able to wear a single CHANEL dress in our lifetime would be enough; for Tonkin – who gets to utter the glorious sentence “I pretty much only wear CHANEL now,” – it’s about more than that. “When you travel with them, you’re not just going to your hotel room and putting some makeup on and going to a show. There is always an experience that has nothing to do with CHANEL. When we were in Hamburg, we went to the ballet. When we go to Paris we always visit at least one museum. It says a lot about how they’ve kept Gabrielle’s legacy alive, because she was so inspired, so beautifully educated in culture and the arts. And I think that’s why, when you are an ambassador like myself, you are ingrained in the brand. You’re not just wearing a dress at an event. You speak the language, you understand the history of it…  And if I’m wearing something all the time, I want to believe in it, and I want to be proud to be wearing it and understand why I’m wearing it.”

It’s also given rise to a lot of pinch-me moments, like being photographed for a magazine cover in Coco Chanel’s apartment on the Rue Cambon in Paris. “Sitting barefoot at her desk wearing a CHANEL jacket, surrounded by all the books she read and collected… it was magical,” remembers Tonkin, adding “Although seeing Snoop Dogg at a CHANEL party was also pretty surreal!”

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Revitalizing Cream

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Revitalizing Serum

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Revitalizing Eye Cream

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Revitalizing Foundation

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Tonkin’s travel notes

Best holiday memory: “I spent the Christmas and New Year’s Eve right before COVID in Bali with my mum, which was really special. We went to a health retreat – not a fancy one – and we just drank green juices and walked in the rice paddies, and shopped for beautiful little jewellery trinkets. If I could go back to Bali tomorrow, I would.”

Favourite holiday destination: “Mallorca is my favourite place in the world. It sort of feels like a surfy town, even though it’s not. There’s just a cool energy there, as well as really beautiful architecture and interiors.” 

On her travel bucket list: “I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve got a friend going to Russia this year, I’m hoping to go visit her. And Iceland. I was actually going to go for New Year’s but then we realised that at this time of year there are only about four hours of light, so I might go when there are about eight hours of light, at least! And India, I’ve been dying to go forever.”

In-flight routine: “I hate flying. I’m a real scaredy-cat flyer. But I’m getting better. I just try to calm my mind a little bit, listen to music, read a good book. I’ve really gotten into sheet masks. I wait until the lights are dimmed to put one on, but at this point, I’ve got so many things on my face between COVID masks and glasses and eye masks… what’s another thing beneath all of this? I won’t watch a drama, even if there’s something new that’s really good. I always just watch, like, The Princess Diaries or anything with Adam Sandler. I only watch funny movies, because my body cannot handle any more tension. That’s my one tip!”