Fashion People Eat: Coffee with Musician Lou Doillon

Mireille Silcoff shares coffee and petite pain au chocolat with the French musician, actress and fashion eccentric

Photo by Kate Barry

Lou’s Former Litmus Test: “If a businessman starts checking you out, that’s when you know it’s time to change.; Photo by Kate Barry

Lou Doillon went to buy cigarettes the evening before I meet her. She was wearing a hat she had picked up earlier that day at Urban Outfitters—a large fur hood with fluffy ears. “The man who sold me the cigarettes was laughing his head off, asking ‘What are you?’ And I said, ‘I am a cat!’ And he was like, ‘No! No! You are a baby tiger!’ I love that! The way odd clothes can open communication.”

In Montreal to promote her much-lauded first album, Places, the black-sheep daughter of actress- singer Jane Birkin and film director Jacques Doillon is now a graduated Paris It-girl. Together with half-sister Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of legendary French singer Serge Gainsbourg, she was a muse of the early aughts: a nouveau grunge model in campaigns for brands from Gap to Givenchy; an influence on designers like Christophe Decarnin at Balmain; often photographed draped over a ubiquitous cigarette outside various international nightclubs.

This wintry morning, we are sharing a large basket of tiny pastries at Maison Boulud in the Ritz-Carlton Montreal. Around us, families eating brunch whisper about the tall girl sitting by the window, who exudes fame on what could be called a genetic level. Today, however, there is no hint of it in her clothes: Acne drainpipe jeans, black Balmain high tops, a fabric backpack, a hoodie, a faded Darth Vader T-shirt. (Doillon’s 10-year-old son Marlowe has the same one, in white.)

Places, Lou Doillon's Debut Album; Photo Courtesy of iStock

Places, Lou Doillon’s Debut Album; Photo Courtesy of iStock

“I find I am doing a teenager thing, lately,” says Doillon, 30. “Just black and black and black. It is part of a clothing crisis. For years, I never wore jeans.”

Places, produced by ’80s French pop singer Etienne Daho, has had the husky-voiced Doillon compared to Marianne Faithful and Patti Smith. But before its release, says Doillon, she wasn’t known for anything “but my outlandish clothes.”

It’s easy to see why: there had been a top hat phase, a strappy, nearly naked inner-wear-as-outerwear phase, a rather disastrous dyed-dreadlock phase. “For years I had this mantra: If a businessman starts checking you out, that’s when you know it’s time to go home and change.” When Chanel offered Doillon clothes to wear at their haute couture show a few years ago, they wanted to give her a little jacket. “They said, ‘You can wear it with jeans.’ I was like, ‘Everyone in the last 20 years has done that! Send me a full Chanel suit—a lady suit.’ I did it to the first degree: beige camisole, the suit, purse and pearls. Full-on granny. Then everyone said, ‘Ooh! The best look of the season.’”

Trendsetting is an old story with Doillon. When she was nine, she was spotted shopping with her mother in Indian-patterned leggings, a shrunken Grateful Dead T-shirt and a kind of trapeze dress on top. “The next week Mummy and I walked past the store we’d been at, and the look was in the window.”

“But I have horrified my family with some of my clothes,” continues Doillon, who got her first tattoo—a burst of stars inside her wrist—when she was 11. “All anyone in my family ever wore were Levi’s blue jeans and white T-shirts and Converse. I wanted to whack my head against the wall. Lipstick is vulgar! Hair dye is vulgar! This idea of looking as if you make no effort at all! It always seemed dishonest, because on the inside these people are screaming ‘lookatmelookatmelookatme!’”

Doillon admits that her current clothing crisis comes from a good place. The press has been historically hard on her. “In France [they] thought my album would be awful, [but] it is not, not at all. For the last months I have been the most famous thing there. So maybe I am wearing a hoodie now because it’s not the time for ‘look-at-me’—everyone is already looking.”