Singer, model, actress, mother – Jane Birkin’s daughter carves her own path. The consummate Parisienne talks crooked beauty, poetry and style.
This article was originally published on MATCHESFASHION.COM.
The first time I met Lou Doillon, it was at a Vanessa Bruno show in Paris, in 2011. Doillon is a bonafide Parisian style icon – with her heavy fringe, kohled eyes, bohemian ancestry and high-profile modelling campaigns – so you might expect an ego, a touch of standoffishness. In fact, the 33-year-old multi-hyphenate was warm and down-to-earth, answering my interview questions with a refreshing humility and calmness, despite the fashion week whirl.
Today, she’s preparing to perform on Later With… Jools Holland. She speaks in softly spoken, crystal-clear English, betraying her Parisian heritage with an occasional, perfectly pronounced French word. English accent aside, she really is the ultimate Parisienne, the daughter of indie film director Jacques Doillon and the inimitable Jane Birkin, and sister to fellow actress, singer and muse, Charlotte Gainsbourg.
These days, Doillon’s primary focus is music – though she assumes the roles of model, actress and illustrator with chameleon-like deftness. Late last year, she released Lay Low as the follow-up to her critically acclaimed album Places, a record that won her the accolade of ‘Best Female’ at France’s prestigious Victoires de la Musique. It’s a raw, personal account of lost love, existential longing and shaky uncertainty. ‘The writing process can be heavy-ish’, she admits, looking to her own illustrated diaries for inspiration. She relays the story behind So Still, a song about ‘this manic girl trying to shake this Buddha of a man and to have him just walk away’. She explains, ‘Someone…who was so kind and grounded and giving…made me feel extremely uncomfortable and the first reflex was to destroy that relation[ship].’ It even elicited tears from a fan in San Francisco last week. ‘I came out [of] the gig,’ she regales, ‘And a girl came crying in my arms’.
‘I tend to write in a very chaotic way’, she muses, explaining her writing process. ‘Sometimes there are people around, sometimes it’s at night, sometimes it’s in the morning, sometimes it’s with the children around.’ Doillon’s a mother to son Marlowe, whose name she has tattooed upon her forearm.
She isn’t afraid of fragility, and her extensive reading reflects that. Her favourite characters – in life and literature – are ‘people who can accept their crookedness and flaws and faults’. Her most-loved authors? ‘John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Thomas Hardy, Graham Greene – they’re people who talk about the vulnerable side of humanity rather than the heroic side.’ Doillon is a bibliophile, her Instagram feed filled with book covers rather than selfies. She’s currently working her way through the classics, inspired by Canadian poet and professor, Anne Carson. She’s taken Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey on tour, and plans to next dive into Ulysses by James Joyce. She talks as poetically as the tomes she devours. ‘I was reading a book yesterday that had a wonderful description of melancholia,’ she tells me, ‘It’s the feeling of our own imperfection.’ She speaks of her own imperfections a lot, citing them as inspiration. On the ‘hysteria of perfection’, she says, ‘You walk into a supermarket [and see] ‘flawless makeup’. You can’t buy crooked foundation. Everyone in the magazines is beautiful in a very violent way.’ I tell her there’s a gap in the market for a beauty line. She laughs.
Certainly, Doillon’s become lauded for her off-kilter beauty and undone style, comprising of skinny jeans, tees and blazers. Her on-stage outfits are equally insouciant. ‘On the first album [Places] I’d get on stage in a massive coat because I was worried and scared, and I would take the coat off and I felt slightly at home. And by the end of the show I would put the coat back on and leave which was so dramatic in a way.’ Wistfully, she concedes, ‘I tried to do a costume’, describing the tuxedos she had made by a French tailor. ‘[There was] a blue one, a black one, a pale green one – in homage to Bowie. I had them all made… and after two gigs, I realised it was impossible for me to be in a costume because that’s not what I do. When I got back in jeans and a T-shirt my drummer was like, “Thank God, here you are, we were waiting for you to take that bloody costume off.”’
‘I’ve never been a kind of person to dress up’, Doillon admits. ‘As a teenager, I was so happy when Kate Moss showed up – I never related to the top models, they always freaked me out. That “dress to impress”, I always hated – I always thought, why would you want to impress anyone? Kate was the first one who was dressing up to move you. That just completely rocked my world because that’s how my mother was and that’s how my sisters are.’
One should always underplay it. If I get my hair and make-up done and dress up all fancy, well, it can’t get better than that.
Mothers don’t come chicer than Jane Birkin, the British singer, actress and style icon. ‘There’s nothing more beautiful than my mum in the 1980s’, Doillon muses, dismissing Birkin’s oft-lauded 1960s style. ‘When she’s just devilishly gorgeous with a big raggedy jersey and a pair of jeans and you just wanna rip your hair off because she’s so beautiful and she doesn’t care and that for me [is] the most beautiful thing.’ She’s inherited a love for ‘wearing clothes that are too big or too small… I’ve always been stealing clothes from my son or my boyfriend’, she says.
Like her mother, Doillon is an advocate for remaining au naturel. ‘One should always underplay it’, she advises. ‘If I get my hair and make-up done and dress up all fancy, well, it can’t get better than that.’ Is that the secret to that elusive ‘French girl style’, I enquire? ‘That it!’ she enthuses. ‘You always stop before, so that people imagine that you could be so much better and sometimes it’s not even true.’ She laughs, adding, ‘But never mind, they’ll never know.’
On tour, Doillon loves to scour thrift shops for vintage finds. ‘In San Francisco I found a crazy red 1950s jacket that I might wear tonight’, she says. ‘I’ll see if I dare. It’s very, very red.’ Sure enough, when I tune in to Later… With Jools Holland, the singer is cloaked in the scarlet blazer – a long-line, black-buttoned affair – together with her signature skinny jeans, a wide-brimmed hat and her lucky gold Saint Laurent boots.
What’s next? ‘It’s going to be heavy-duty festivals all of July’, Doillon explains. And she has plans to release the delicate drawings of hands and feet from her personal diary into the world with a line of illustrated ceramic pieces. Then, it’s time to rest and write. ‘I’m going to sit down and start writing again’, she says, happily. ‘The idea of just stupidly sitting down and grinning and watching my son grow, watching the plants grow in my little house, and just taking the time seems to be the best thing to do right now.’