Lou Doillon is a talker. The French singer waxes and wanes in such a perfect English lilt it would be a travesty to interrupt her.
With mere traces of her native accent, she has a way of making everything she says seem profound, even if just discussing clothing. It’s a quality that no doubt only heightens her cool factor, blessing her with rock-star prominence in her homeland, making her the face and muse for Parisian fashion house Givenchy, and inspiring legions of fashion-forward fans around the world.
The daughter of quintessential 1960s British “It” girl Jane Birkin and French director Jacques Doillon, the singer – who will be performing in Adelaide next month as part of an Australian tour – is half-sister to acclaimed actor Charlotte Gainsbourg, Birkin’s daughter from her relationship with legendary French singer Serge Gainsbourg.
Doillon may have the ultimate hipster heritage, but when asked about her own icon status, she is dismissive.
“My mother is the icon, the muse,” she says. “A muse is someone who has never tried to be. My mother has absolutely no taste in clothes. Everything she does is for practicality. She wore mini-skirts to compensate for having no tits. She met (Yves) Saint Laurent and he was a nice man so she got to know him. She sat next to Dumas (Jean-Louis Dumas, chief executive of Hermès) on a plane and asked him to make her a big bag because she wanted to fit her groceries in it.”
She is referring, of course, to the coveted Birkin bag, Hermès’ greatest creation that now sells for upwards of $10,000. Doillon doesn’t own a single Birkin. Neither do any of her five sisters.
You get the sense that, like her mother, Doillon is motivated by a practicality, originality and wicked sense of humour impossible to mimic. Her must-have item is a big coat for when she goes cold with nerves on stage, and because a coat allows you to “sleep anywhere, and use it to hide when you want to have a snog”. She wears shorts underneath all her dresses on stage to avoid thinking “infuriating female thoughts” about flashing her knickers to the audience.
All her songs are in English because “it’s a simpler language. In French you have to clarify everything. English has a vagueness to it”. This effortlessness is evident in her music. On her 2012 debut album, Places, her husky voice spouts honest lyrics about love and loss like the vocal lovechild of Amy Winehouse and Bob Dylan. Unsurprisingly, her favourite song on the album, Real Smart, also had humble beginnings. “I wrote it quite drunk one night at the piano and recorded it in a pagan way, on my iPhone. I don’t even play the piano!” she laughs.
It’s a relaxed attitude that has paid off for an artist fairly new to the music scene. Places won her the title of Best Female Performer of the Year at Les Victoires de la Musique, the French equivalent of the Grammys, and she will tour Australia in January as part of the So Frenchy So Chic festival.
A mother to 11-year-old son Marlowe, Doillon made the switch to music after 15 years as an actress, a career she now realises did not suit her lifestyle.
“I was always not showing up to castings because I had fallen in love or was with my son,” she admits. “I’m also a night bird. Now, I can completely surrender to love and feelings and life because it helps my songwriting.”
Her mother is one of the greatest supporters of her music career, even offering to produce her first album before the two of them agreed it would be “the worst idea ever”. Of their relationship, Doillon utterly gushes. She talks about Birkin with adoration, describing her as “absolutely balmy, a punk and not scared”, and expressing gratitude for her eclectic upbringing split between a French father and an English mother.
A childhood spent in the public eye as the daughter of two passionate artists has clearly rubbed off on Doillon’s world-view. She is thoughtful, appreciative and creative, never without her diary filled with sketches, lyrics and musings.
Her visit to Australia in January will be her first and she is most eager to simply see the people. “I’m very amazed by the nature of human beings. I’m excited to just sit in a café and shut up and draw the people.”
Despite her massive success in France and abroad, she remains refreshingly grounded. Not the Hollywood actress type of grounded, entailing sugary sweet appreciation and wide-eyed acceptance speeches, but genuinely, innately grounded. You just want to have a red-wine-filled dinner party with her at her undoubtedly cool apartment and talk about life.
“It’s not normal,” she says gravely of her popularity, “to think 400 people have found a car park and a babysitter to come see you perform. It’s a responsibility. I think if you ever get over that, really … you’re f***ed.”
Lou Doillon will perform as part of the Sessions 2014 series of live music at the Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, on January 16.
This article was first published on The New Daily
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