Don’t jump to the conclusion that just because actress, model, and now singer Lou Doillon comes from French pop royalty that she was heartily embraced by her countrymen.
The 31-year-old daughter of iconic singer-actress Jane Birkin (she of the steamy and controversial Serge Gainsbourg duet “Je t’aime . . . moi non plus”) and half-sister of singer-actress Charlotte Gainsbourg encountered quite the opposite response in her acting career.
“I think I was pretty much hated in France,” Doillon said on the phone earlier this week. “The French press ignored me. There was a movement when the children of celebrities faced strong animosity. I was seen as spoiled, entitled, and a bit of a bastard.”
After years of scorn, Doillon, who performs at the ICA Oct. 15, is finally being recognized as a talented singer in her homeland for her album “Places.” She cites influences such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bobbie Gentry, and Patti Smith, but the hushed, bittersweet songs also call to mind the chansons of her mother’s friend Francoise Hardy or the pop savvy of Keren Ann.
“For the first time I was able to put my own message out there,” she said of the album’s success. “As an actress, you’re part of what the director is creating, and as a model, you’re representing a designer’s vision.”
Before ticking off Doillon’s list of achievements, it’s important to explain her place in France’s hierarchy of music stars and actors. Doillon’s mother, Birkin — yes, the legendary Hermes bag carries her name — was in a relationship with France’s biggest musical export Serge Gainsbourg. The couple had Charlotte. Birkin later left Gainsbourg for director Jacques Doillon, and Birkin gave birth to Lou in 1982.
Doillon said sister Charlotte is seen as “the official princess of France.” She, on the other hand, feels as if she was poorly regarded because of the unpopularity of the Gainsbourg-Birkin split. She has carried all of this baggage for years, and finally had an opportunity to share it on “Places.” As a result, she said public opinion of her has shifted in France.
Doillon has been acting in films since the age of 5 when she starred in Agnes Varda’s “Kung Fu Master.” She then went on to act in what she refers to as a series of “under-the-radar” French movies. She’s also done television, and even showed up as herself in an episode of “Gossip Girl.”
Internationally, much of her fame has come from modeling. She has walked the runway for Missoni, Tom Ford, and Dior. This fall, she’s the face of Barneys New York in an ad campaign photographed by Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. (A life-size marionette of Doillon was created for the campaign.) She has acted as spokesmodel and muse for Givenchy. She is just as well known for her unfussy but always chic style as she is for her many modeling gigs.
Even with a portfolio that most models would trade their favorite Louboutins for, Doillon remains humble about it all.
“I was always the funny-looking girl,” she says. “I couldn’t compete with the Brazilian girls. My nose is off, my ears are too big. But I think it’s my personality that these designers were drawn to.”