French model and actress Zouzou was known for her beauty and her partying in equal measure. The offer of a recording contract in 1966 was one she couldn’t turn down and allowed her to add singing to her list of accomplishments.
Zouzou was born Danièle Ciarlet on 22 November 1943 in Blida, in French-ruled Algeria. She was a bright student, passing her baccalaureat at 14 rather than at 18, and enrolling at the artistic Académie Charpentier.
Despite her intelligence, she wasn’t a driven person. Fortunately for her, she didn’t have to seek out
work – it came to her. With her slim, almost masculine frame, she was perfect for the androgynous styles being designed by Jean-Paul Goude and she was offered modelling work for him and, later, for Yves Saint Laurent.
She gained notoriety for her private life as much as for her work. Of an evening she would frequent the top Parisian nightspots, and her tireless clubbing led to her being dubbed “Zouzou la twisteuse” by Paris-Match magazine in 1961.
Two years later, Bertrand Blier gave her a part in his film Hitler, connait pas, raising her profile even further.
Almost inevitably, she was offered a recording contract with the Vogue label. Her first EP, released in April 1966, comprised four songs composed by the then unknown Jacques Dutronc (he became an extremely successful singer himself shortly afterwards).
The lead track was the excellent folk-styled Il est parti comme il était venu, for which a young singer by the name of Benjamin had supplied the lyrics. However, the remaining three songs lacked words, so Zouzou set about writing them herself. The results – J’avais rêvé, Ne cherche pas and Puisque tu es revenu – are surprisingly successful, and the EP proved a good buy for folk-pop fans.
While promoting the release she met Marianne Faithfull and the two became firm friends. The
British singer and actress was just one of the stars that Zouzou counted amongst her entourage. That year she became romantically involved with Brian Jones and lived with the Rolling Stones guitarist in London for about a year.
In 1967 she returned to the studio to record a follow up EP, featuring Petit garçon as the lead track. Again, she supplied the lyrics, including a French translation of Young girl blues, which folk singer Donovan had offered her and which became Ce samedi soir. The track Tu fais partie du passé is also often cited as a favourite among fans.
However, Zouzou’s singing career was never her main interest. By this time she was a familiar face in French cinema, appearing in a string of films, including La pomme ou l’histoire d’une histoire and Marie pour mémoire, and had become a symbol of the anti-establishment.
She recorded one further song in the 1960s, 1969’s Mes convenances, before concentrating on her acting. Her role in Eric Rohmer’s 1972 film L’amour l’après-midi brought her international success, though it would be fair to say her addiction to heroin held back her career.
In 1974 she issued a one-off duet with fellow 1960s chanteuse Dani, Un homme qui revient toujours.
She moved to the Caribbean four years later and returned to Paris in the mid-1980s. However, two spells in prison for drugs-related offences in the early 1990s consolidated her bad-girl reputation, and by way of a fresh start, she even spent a period selling newspapers on the Paris Metro.
In 2003 she published a biography and went back into the studio to record material that had been lying in a drawer since the late 1960s.