As a kid I used to love puzzles and I spent many evening looking for the right jigsaw piece to complete the picture. Occasionally I feel that with perfumes I’m still playing a jigsaw puzzle game as the same fragrance reveals something new whenever I smell it again. This was the case with Cacharel Loulou. When I first smelled it as an 11 year old on my mother, I remember thinking, “the cherry compote.” It was the only part of Loulou I could recognize, because at that point I hadn’t smelled any gardenias or ylang ylang or incense. They didn’t figure in my Eastern European childhood.
Revisiting Loulou some years later after I had already worn gardenias tucked in my hair as someone tried to kiss my neck and having smelled pungent Indian incense, other pieces of the puzzle fell in place. I discovered with surprise and pleasure that it was not a juicy cherry, but a candied white blossom dipped in vanilla liqueur. I loved it just the same, except that it no longer seemed innocent to me. Loulou was quite a vixen, and though I wasn’t one at all, I liked to dab the parfum on my neck and play the part.
Originally created in 1987, it was inspired by actress Louise Brooks, and the perfume was Cacharel’s sequel to the innocent Anaïs Anaïs, which by then was an important trendsetter. The Cacharel team wanted something more seductive, more smoldering, but also insouciant and charming.
Perfumer Jean Guichard brought together the mouthwatering sweetness of vanilla bean with the heady opulence of tiaré, the Tahitian gardenia. According to fragrance expert Michael Edwards, Loulou was the forerunner of the edible, gourmand perfumes that we now take for granted. The combination of sumptuous white blossoms and vanilla custard satisfied Cacharel’s aims; glittering and voluptuous, Loulou smelled like a delicious morsel, but it behaved like a femme fatale.
Now, a few more years later Loulou and I have reunited after a long break. The puzzle now is that Loulou changed even more than I did. It’s now more Grace Kelly than Louise Brooks, more comfort than glamour. It smells like a gardenia lathered in almond milk soap, and the drydown reminds me of Nivea cream. Loulou feels cozy and sexy the way a soft silk camisole does.
At first, the change startled me–the top notes that do a good approximation of an old-fashioned hairspray didn’t help, but as the perfume settled, I stole more and more surreptitious sniffs from my wrist. Loulou was toned down, but the musky, creamy, warm finish still felt addictive. A pale grey whisper of incense gives it a subtle exotic accent, while the toasted almonds and vanilla are tempting. The closest comparison is to Guerlain’s Cruel Gardénia, except Loulou is much more fun.
One thing that remains true about Loulou is that she’s no wallflower. For all of her wholesome and well-scrubbed demeanor, she stands out in the crowd. The tenacity is impressive as is the sillage. She continues to puzzle me, but I’m holding onto my bottle and enjoying the game.
Cacharel Loulou includes notes of mandarin, marigold, black currant buds, jasmine, mimosa, tiaré flower, ylang ylang, heliotrope, iris, sandalwood, musk, incense, tonka bean, and vanilla. Available as the Eau de Parfum from Boots, Sephora (Europe only) and other major European perfumeries. I haven’t seen it in the US, apart from the discounters and Ebay.
Sample: my own Eau de Toilette and extrait de parfum from the early 1990s and current Eau de Parfum.