I’ve never been into perfumes that are “seductive” in a conventionally feminine way. While some women wear Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb or Victoria’s Secret Very Sexy (worst name ever, by the way), I’m happy smelling like overripe flowers (Diorella) or someone’s overripe armpit (Aramis). I mostly wear perfume for myself, clearly!
This doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate perfume in that girly genre, if done well, and Loulou by Cacharel does it well. With a gently sweet opening of black currants, fresh top notes and florals (mandarin, heliotrope, and tiare) and a decadently rich vanilla heart, Loulou dries down to incense, sandalwood, orris and musk, adding mystery to the perfume’s more conventional come-on. Loulou lives up to the supposed perfume brief Jean Guichard was given by Cacharel: Create a perfume that projects both “tenderness and seduction.”
Top notes: Bergamot, black currant buds, green leaves, marigold, mandarin
Heart notes: Jasmine, heliotrope, mimosa, tiare, ylang-ylang
Base notes: Tonka bean, incense, iris, musk, vanilla, sandalwood (notes from Michael Edwards' Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances) *
The name Loulou was inspired by the silent film actress Louise Brooks in her role as Lulu in G.W. Pabst’s 1928 classic Pandora’s Box. Lulu is a dancer and prostitute whose combination of (you guessed it!) innocence and seduction supposedly leads men to ruin. One prominent doctor who falls prey to her magical powers ends up committing a heinous crime. At his trial, the prosecution blames Lulu for making him do it, likening her to the Greek goddess Pandora, an expert at flattery who opened a box given to her by the gods and let evil out into the world.
Setting aside this obnoxious backstory (it’s amazing how everything can be projected onto women!), I think it’s more palatable to the feminist in me to see Loulou as a perfume inspired by Louise Brooks’ amazing Jazz Age style, which itself combines a kind of innocent/seductive dichotomy. (But even that’s a little creepy: “innocent” (short, kid’s style haircut) and “seductive” (dark lipstick, etc.etc.). * *
But back to the perfume. In the Edwards book, we’re told that Loulou was the sequel to Anais Anais (1978), a straight up “innocent” floral (and one I’m going to review soon, I think.) Loulou was also heir to Ombre Rose (1981), whose praline and vanilla notes proved popular. (Until Ombre Rose, vanilla had been out of vogue for decades.) We're told that Loulou also attempted to soften the harshness of Poison (1985) through its intense vanilla note. Among everything else 80s perfumes overdosed on, apparently vanilla was one of them.
I could never wear Loulou, but its vanilla/incense-sandalwood combination is pretty intoxicating. The vanilla is so rich and gourmand, it runs through Loulou like a vanilla version of the chocolate river that ran through Willy Wonka’s candy factory. The initial sweetness remains, but recedes as vanilla takes over, and by the end, the scratchy-spicy basenotes add a maturity and sophistication to Loulou.
Funny that I’ll wear vaguely offensive perfumes out in public with reckless (reeking?) abandon, but as much as I appreciate Loulou, I wouldn't be caught dead with it on out in public. Maybe I’d wear it to bed, but I'd have to be alone…
* (Here is Haarmann & Reimer's slightly different breakdown)
Top notes: Bergamot, violet, plum, mace, cassis (black currant buds), tagetes (marigold), anise; Heart notes: Jasmine, tuberose, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, rose, orris, lily of the valley; Base notes: Cedar, vetiver, sandalwood, tonka, heliotrope, vanilla, benzoin, musk
* * To add to the creepy Lolita factor, here’s perfumer Guichard’s discussion of his use of vanilla in Loulou: “The idea of vanilla came straight into my head because we wanted something sensual that smelt of skin. In France, people say that a young girl’s skin smells of caramel. That is the smell of toffee, which is a bit vanilla-like. So we started working around the vanilla-toffee notes.”
* * * I have to mention my LOVE for this bottle somewhere. Designed by Annegret Beier, it looks like a genie bottle, and the colors were inspired by a Matisse painting of an odalisque whose red pants contrast with the blue background. Beier: "Loulou's bottle is like a magic flask. Rub it, and a spirit comes out."