Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cacharel Loulou: fragrance review

When Cacharel Loulou first came out in 1987, there was a wonderful TV ad set to the romantic Pavane, Opus 50 by Gabriel Fauré and veiled in the mysterious bluish tones of the print ad. It featured a slip of a girl in a classic 20’s bob haircut dressed in a dark stretch dress (so Parisian at the time, very Azzedine Alaia!), swaying hurriedly through space on what seemed a film set, and when a voice called out “Loulou”, she turned to us –the viewers- replying “Oui, c’est moi” (i.e.yes, that’s me). It transported the Cacharel-trademark hazy contours and grainy shots of photographer Sarah Moon to the next level: a Lolitesque seduction. It has haunted me ever since...

The inspiration of Loulou by Cacharel: Loulou was meant to evoke the great film actress Louise Brooks and her Lulu role in the silent 1928 Pabst film Pandora’s Box (tamer than its title would hint at, but not by much considering). Louise Brooks has captured the imagination of discerning cinephiles ever since. Her trademark haircut (that actually recalls Cleopatra herself) has inspired many women and men alike. In fact Guido Crepax, the Italian sketch artist of “Valentina”, fashioned his notorious heroine of a vivid imagination and lush posterior attributes on her. The comic book had been turned into a RAI miniseries back in the late 80’s starring Demetra Hampton. The erotic TV-series was heavy in cultural referencing; indeed one episode was called ..."Lulu", reprising the Brooks character.

Loulou the Cacharel fragrance is almost forgotten today, although slightly less than those episodes, although it hasn’t been discontinued. In an age that pushes celebrity scents to an apotheosis, the natural urge of the perfume fanatic would be to turn to niche scents and/or classics from the distant past. Indeed this has been the case with many, as current literature on the subject indicates. That leaves many lovely perfumes of a more recent crop to the shade. Pity if you think about it. I had used the perfume for a while back, enjoying the wink in the eye it provided, the naiveté, the pure élan. It was perfection for those times!

The formula was composed by perfumer Jean Guichard, who is also responsible for Obsession (another 80’s hit), Eden (another forgotten Cacharel), and Deci Dela ( the delectable light chypre by Nina Ricci). Loulou bears the mark of the decade’s excess : lush and rich, it would seem completely out of place up until ten years ago when gourmands entered the scene. Somewhere between floral and oriental and with a similar feel to both Oscar de la Renta and Poison, Cacharel Loulou can also be viewed as a distant cousin of Guerlain's L’Heure Bleue. The sweet and a little melancholic heliotrope plus anise ties them together. The Cacharel fragrance opens on the characteristic note of cassis, a synthetically recreated berry base, quite sweet. This may become overwhelming on some, but the assistance of bergamot and aniseed manage to soften the blow of the top notes. Violet, mace and plum add their smooth nuances along with an armful of ylang-ylang, jasmine, marigold and a smidgen of tiare (that tropical flower of Tahiti), although one would be hard pressed to locate any of those individually, except for heliotrope perhaps which has a soft almondy scent, imparting a powdery aura along with the earthy orris: The feeling is almost retro, much like the whole ambience of the scent is after all. The fragrance lasts and lasts on the skin, suffused with musks and woods, with the insistence of tonka bean, a hay-like vanillic seed of a West African tree.

The bottle of Loulou looks best in the parfum or splash version (as depicted in the ad): a turquoise polygonal opaline that continues the house’s love affair with opaline (later to be reprised in green for Eden) topped with a dark red pointy stopper and garlanded with a burgundy red tassel : the contrast of colours is daring and unique, the concept vaguely inspired by Poison according to Michael Edwards. The Eau de parfum sprayer is sadly not as pretty.
To me Loulou will always remain the smell to match the young girl that had first caught my eye in the TV ads and myself back then : insouciant , oblivious to her own seductiveness. A wonderful fragrance, if rather sweet for everyday.

The commercial still produces a sigh of delightful and wistful reminiscence in me, like a dog who is sighing, her paws tucked in and her ears down at the completion of a tender, sad patting as if to part forever.

Photo of Demetra Hampton as Valentina via facebook. Loulou ad via Parfum de Pub. Louis Brooks in Pandora's Box via


  1. Anonymous13:21

    Love your post. Quite a review of a beautiful fragrance. I find it a comfort scent for some reason, but as you explained, can't wear it for some occasions due to its over-the-top sillage. Thanks for including the video!

  2. Until seeing your second photo, I never realized that the Loulou bottle resembles an oil lamp with red flame on top! Loulou wears like Samsara; deeply, delightfully luscious and soothing, and a little dab'll do ya! Though compared to Samsara, LouLou is flirty and mischievous!

  3. Linda16:23

    Oh thank you so much! The commercial is so charming, and the description so full of nostalgia: Loulou is heavily discounted here and I shall indulge in some very soon to bring back memories!

  4. Anonymous18:47

    I love this post!

    I wore Lulu to a dinner where I knew an ex boyfriend would also attend-I flirted with my new companion while he looked on!

    Come to think of it, I was also sporting the black bob/red lips combo at the time, too.

    There is a wonderful biography of Louise Brooks, by Barry Paris. It was long out of print (I bought mine on # bay) but it has been reissued. It's a very very good read.

    Thank you, Helg, for the excellent read!


    Carole MacLeod

  5. I love Loulou!!!

  6. Anonymous16:08

    I still wear Loulou from time to time, and am so glad to see it getting some love here. Unsurprisingly perhaps, I also wear L'Heure Bleue and Poison. Love those big, big florientals.

    When Loulou came out, I had moved from my mother's house into the big city and remember feeling so independent and feminine and strong. Those are the qualities that a whiff of Loulou conjures up for me.

  7. Oh my goodness, that advert brings back so many memories...

  8. I enjoy LouLou occasionally. It is so distinctive a scent and I have to be in just the right mood -- then it's the only thing that will do.

    When I talked about perfume to a college class a couple of years ago, I brought along LouLou, because I was using Brian Eno's famous perfume article as a text and he mentions LL in it. I thought the kids would hate the perfume, but I was wrong. What they said was that it reminded them of their mothers! Ack...

  9. Anon,

    thank you! It has a sort of sentimental value for quite a few people I'd hazard: it came out at a specific time. It's qauite lovely. *sigh*

  10. Amy,

    it's quite a bottle! The contrast between the two colours alone is magnificent (due to it being so unusual). A lamp with a flame is a great description!!
    It does wear like Samsara, perhaps less bass (that sandalwood). :-) They more or less came at the same time-frame, give or take a couple of years.

  11. Linda,

    please do! I hope you enjoy the revisiting. Apart from nostalgia, it's also technically a very competent fragrance.

  12. Carole,

    thank you for saying so and for your rec. I know the book you're referring to and I have had in my wishlist for some time. (glad to hear it's such an engaging read too)

    And wow, what a story! The vindication of the seductress over the ex. You go girl! Thanks for sharing :-)

  13. Karin,

    can't blame you. It's rather more loud than I usually go for, but sometimes a little "HEY!" is good for contrast. I love it.

  14. LuxeBytes,

    thanks for stopping by and commenting and hope these pages turn out to provide pleasure: Welcome to the shrine!

    It seems that many women who grew up with Loulou (and others of that era, like Poison indeed) have attached strong memories to it. I gather that it is a scent that speaks of feminine prowress to some degree and it also was very characteristic at a time when there weren't as many releases as today (so things inevitably were more memorable anyway). It's nice to hear that it keeps such a special place in your heart.
    It was the scent of a memorable vacation, exclusively worn at that time and it still reminds me of specific places and people.

  15. P,

    yeah, isn't it dreamy? *nostalgic, dreamy gaze*
    I don' really know whether it is the bluish tones, the cinematic references (was a cine-crazie from a tender age), the deliciously romantic music or the overall cuteness (that open-hearted and yet playful laugh and that innocent assertion at the end) that keeps me hooked. Funny how advertising can keep us dreaming on a product, isn't it?

  16. M,

    honey, now that was one perspective which I'm not sure I was ready to hear,, LOL! Surely these were very very young students and they had very very young mothers, eh? *whistles*

    I'm not surprised that modern kids would like it: it's sweet, but it's not insipid. And it has something cuddly and comforting about it. Which might be why they were thinking of their mothers, apart from the fact of course that the latter would be wearing it when the kids were growing up. Now, here's the thing: Loulou was advertised as a young woman's fragrance. And by young I do mean they targeted very young: early 20s. (Funny how today's tastes & market has changed sooooooo much in that regard). So it seems like what "made it" is that it transceded generations as the very young women of the late 80s should be about 45-48 now. (Perhaps I'm analysing too much, but I'm supposing they wouldn't en masse have kids who're at college age right now, right?)

    Good thinking on you to bring along the Eno piece! Clever piece, clever move.

  17. Love Loulou. Special time, special memories... growing up i loved to sniff it from a mini i grabbed from my mother who hated its sweetness.
    Now, today i am a wearer of L'heure bleue and Samsara, too ;-)
    A reference Loulou-bottle on my shelf, of course. Wearing it only seldom, but still. most men i know LOVE it!

  18. Nina dearest,

    hello darling? How's everything? So nice to see you here! Hope your vacation went GREAT!

    It is a pretty special fragrance and it's great to have some to reference, even if one doesn't particularly love it. It's just very well thought of, from bottle to juice to image, you know? You do know. How fun to learn that men love it too! Thanks for sharing.

  19. Anonymous08:42

    Why bow-out and lose that feeling of exuberance - that "Joie de Vivre"? What I love about Cacharel fragrances is how they promise to be provocative, interesting and alive; there's no way someone could simply smell "nice" in rich, lushly sweet "Lou Lou", with its macey kick of electricity and thick, powdery-oily florals. "Lou Lou" is about getting out of the house, being around people, having a great time together. It's for those who are embarking on a thrilling, new, romantic relationship or something you splash on before going to a Carnival or a movie with the kids. Being out and "alive" at night, around other people who are doing the same.

    So many fragrances these days reflect the somber, nesting mood of Western recession - go to work, then rush home, ASAP, avoid the neighbors, turn-in and hide under the covers. Repeat the next day. This fragrance draws you out of hibernation and inspires you to engage.

    I was only a little kid when "LouLou" first came out, so age has nothing to do with it - I just personally think we, as a society, need to experience fragrances, again, that are social conversation pieces. We need to challenge ourselves to avoid mindless droning - a.k.a, patiently and sullenly waiting to die, no creative stimulation in sight. Enough of the fruit-and-vanilla-water splashes. Live, people! Wear "Lou Lou"! Never surrender until they drag you off stage ;)!

  20. Anonymous01:32

    Lou Lou is my all time favorite perfume! I wish it weren't so hard to find! I've never worn it, without receiving compliments and it seems to be an aphrodisiac in intimate settings. I feel very confident, strong and seductive when I wear it

  21. Fiona20:20

    I have been using Lou Lou for 27 years, and I must say everyone at works knows I'm around as the link the aroma to me - in a good way!

    Only major problem for me, is that in the last 2 years it brings me out in a rash. Have they changed the formula? I can only wear it if I spray it on my clothes, I'm so sad my signature scent brings me out in an allergic rash after all this time.

  22. Fiona20:27

    I have been wearing Lou Lou for over 20 years, it's my signature scent and everyone always comments on the beautiful aroma in the office, they know I'm in when they smell Lou Lou.

    One major problem is that it now brings me out in an allergic rash, have they changed the formula? I'm so unhappy that 'my smell' now has this reaction on my skin.

  23. Anon#1,

    preach it!!
    I think it all boils down to being afraid to live a little; there is a powerful mechanism of suppressing "living" in the western world these days. Everyone is afraid of offending, of appearing a certain way, of whatever.

    Enjoy!! Loved your comment. I also discovered LouLou when I was very very little myself.

  24. Anon#2,

    that's fabulous! It is a scent to be noticed in, no doubt. Very playful too.
    I think you will find plenty on online discounters, it's not that hard to find.

  25. Fiona,

    my sympathies, this must really chaff. It might be a change in formula (though usually that would be to the opposite direction, i.e. trying to eliminate contact dermatitis) or it could be that your system has finally developed a sensitivity to one of the ingredients (it often takes some time to do that).

    Well, one way around it, is to spray your clothes. I almost always do that and it works fine. (You can also try to spray them on the inside at first and let them dry and then wear them, so that a bit transfers on your skin to gauge reactions and see if it's the base ingredients or the more volatile ones which cause the problem. This might be helpful knowledge.) Apart from silk, I haven't found that use problematic.

  26. I wore it once-to my junior prom and it will forever live in that sweet niche of memory.

  27. Stephanie,

    that's such a lovely thing to share! Thank you. :-)

  28. I remember buying this in Paris as it was launching. It seemed so chic as I was young then, in my 20s. I couldn't wear it for long, however, much as I loved the smell because something made my throat feel like it was closing. I did try many times to wear it but ended up just enjoying the lovely blue bottle on my vanity. (Schiaparelli did that to me as well). I had the lotion and the perfume bottle but one day I dropped the bottle and the tall stopper broke off leaving a piece inside the neck so I couldn't open it and I tossed the whole thing out! I still have the pretty perfume cream jar with a bit of it left. I think I was able to wear that. I still regret tossing that perfume bottle though, could have glued it maybe. Regardless I can still conjure that rich smell in my mind somewhat and I haven't smelled it in years.

  29. S,

    that was unfortunate indeed. A pity....
    I have had this happen to me as well (though usually it happens with old nail polishes: the neck breaks if forced...)
    I can see how the scent itself can become overwhelming though! It's quite a potent little thing, a minx on horse hooves!

  30. This is the original advert for Lou Lou:

  31. Mary,

    indeed, thanks! :-)

    Posted just a couple of days ago, but eons (it seems, LOL) after my review. Maybe I will update the video when I get a minute.

  32. I know I'm way late, but I just had to leave a comment as due to your review I just bought my first bottle of Lou Lou and I love it. I'm actually quite puzzled as to why I love it as it seems much too over the top for me and I don't remember anyone dear to me wearing it when I was young. But every time I smell it, it makes me feel happy and giddy. So thank you! Birte

    1. No problem on being late. It's absolutely great that you found this and love it! I'm so glad when people post comments like this, that I have "inspired" them in some small way. Thanks for saying so, then, Birte!Enjoy your beautiful perfume :-)


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine