A couple of things you probably wouldn’t have guessed about Lou Doillon. First, she’s a big fan of musicals (namely Guys & Dolls) and says she knows pretty much all of them by heart. Second of all, you know that panic about only living once, which puts pressure on you to do absolutely everything? She gets that too. Finally, when you spot her in the street and think you’re being subtle as you do a quick mental scan to work out where you know her from, yes, she definitely sees you staring.
It’s a life that the French-British creative is used to living. Daughter of fashion royalty Jane Birkin and celebrated French film director Jacques Doillon, the spotlight is familiar territory. As her 20-year career has woven itself through (deep breath) film, TV, fashion, theatre, art and music, she’s consistently referred to as the epitome of that elusive Parisian aesthetic. Doillon is the embodiment of that effortlessly cool French-girl chic that has fascinated us for years.
She chuckles when I ask about this persona. "It’s funny how in France I represent British style," Doillon says. "It’s true that wherever I go, I’m always part of the other gang in a way. When people say 'a model', they would say, 'she’s not a model, she’s an actress'. Then you’ll have actresses say, 'she’s not an actress, she’s a model'. Then in music they always say I do theatre."
Doillon takes this as no bad thing, though. In fact, as we sit across from each other in the lobby of a glossy London hotel, legs tucked beneath us and heads resting against the back of the sofa, I notice the warmth that Doillon projects. "It’s always been lovely to be part of no gang because I’ve been lucky enough to go through all of those worlds and be a bit like a cowboy," she continues. "I’m on my horse and I go through the fashion industry and the music industry, and that’s delightful because it’s so many creative people and the common thread in all of that is that I’m very curious."
This inclination led Doillon to the music industry more than two albums ago now, and it’s here that we arrive at the third – Soliloquy. It’s a fitting name for a project that Doillon says felt very different from Places in 2012 and Lay Low in 2015. For this one she took most of the responsibilities on herself. "I was the master puppeteer of it all," she explains. Before, Doillon would work with producers who she describes as "tailors"; the type who would bind acoustic guitar and vocals in a way that was a little too perfect for her liking. "[This time] I wanted to see how far I could go and how I could be shaken and how tough I could be at work."
Splitting the album between three producers gave her a greater sense of control, she says, but it also raised a question: "Men can deal with your writing a song," she says, "but producing it? It’s a very different story."
The gender imbalance in the music industry is a depressingly familiar story that Doillon is aware she has grown accustomed to. "I’ve been in jobs since I was 12 or 13 and I’ve always thought that was normal," she says. "I was like, oh you’re a girl so we have to work twice as much to be taken half as seriously. And suddenly, you get to a place where we can question it now, and also guys are all walking on eggshells at this point... It was great with the producers when suddenly they got it, that they didn’t have to treat me like a little thing and that I could have an opinion and maybe I knew what I was doing."
You’re a girl so we have to work twice as much to be taken half as seriously...
Doillon's revived fascination with the power of women is threaded through the songs on this album, too. "Funnily enough, I think that there’s a lot of women inspiration in this album – maybe more than in the albums before," she says. Reading great women while working on Soliloquy opened Doillon's eyes to a familiar perception. "Whether it’s writing or painting or expressing themselves – they had a very sharp and blunt way of showing their own reality," she explains. "Girls can be so honest, bluntly honest, especially in writing. When you see some of men’s poetry, it can be much more seductive and much sweeter and then when suddenly a woman like Anne Carson goes for it, or a Dorothy Parker goes for it, you think, wow."
Before she jumps on the next train to Paris, I ask Doillon if she could name three women that really inspire her. She obliges. "I can give names so that we can research a bit, maybe some ones that are less in the public eye." First, the aforementioned Anne Carson, who Doillon summarises humorously as "she's alive, she's Canadian and she wrote a wonderful book called Autobiography of Red." Next on the list is the experimental film director Maya Deren, followed quickly by American poet Dorothy Parker, who Doillon says has always been her number one. I'll leave you to do as Doillon says, and google the great women who influenced her if you want to know more.
Soliloquy is available to purchase and stream now.