Actress, singer, director and true style icon, Jane Birkin has inspired millions of people around the world, leaving an indelible mark on culture thanks to her timeless elegance. From the love story with Serge Gainsbourg and their unscrupulous duet “Je t’aime … moi non plus”, passing through the iconic Hermès Birkin bag and her unconventional style, Jane Birkin will continue to influence countless generations.
But let’s retrace her extraordinary life and her complete and eclectic creative journey.
Born in London on December 14, 1946, Jane Mallory Birkin was the second daughter of Major David Birkin, commander of the Royal Navy, and of the actress and singer Judy Campbell, famous for her performances in Noël Coward’s musicals, whose performances she will soon follow footsteps. In fact, she began her career as a stage actress at the age of 17, during the years of swinging London, and later made her debut as a singer in a musical, encouraged by the English composer John Barry, author of the music for the James Bond films, whom she later married at the age of 19. From this marriage she had her first daughter, Kate Barry, born in 1967 and died by suicide in 2013.
Her cinematic debut dates back to 1965 with “Not everyone has it” by Richard Lester, but it was with the following film, “Blow-Up” by Michelangelo Antonioni (1966), and with the scene in which she appeared topless, that Birkin achieved stardom, becoming an icon thanks to her androgynous physique and sensual femininity.
It was in 1968, on the set of the French film “Slogan”, that the fatal meeting took place with the singer and musician Serge Gainsbourg, with whom he undertook a long sentimental and professional partnership that made them one of the most famous and transgressive couples of the jet set of the era.
At the end of 1968 the two recorded in London the first album resulting from their collaboration, entitled “Jane Birkin – Serge Gainsbourg”. The publication of the disc was anticipated the following year by the famous single “Je t’aime… moi non plus”, causing a great scandal. Despite the controversy and bans, the song became a hit in many countries, selling more than five million copies and giving the couple enormous notoriety.
The two went to live in Paris with Jane’s daughter, in the apartment at 5 bis rue de Verneuil, in the 7th arrondissement, which became a meeting point for artists, intellectuals and bohemians of the time. In 1971, from this overwhelming love, their daughter, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, was born.
During the seventies Birkin continued her activity as a singer by recording some of her albums written mainly by her husband, which made her become one of the most popular interpreters across the Alps. At the same time she continued her career as an actress, alternating between French productions, such as “The swimming pool”, “The novel of a horse thief”, “A woman like me”, and international ones, such as “Murder on the Nile”.
Over the years, Gainsbourg’s excesses became increasingly difficult for her partner to bear, who, now thirty, began to desire a more peaceful lifestyle away from her excesses. After their separation in 1980, while continuing the collaboration with Gainsbourg in the musical field, Birkin linked up with the French director Jacques Doillon, with whom she began a new phase of her career, abandoning the sensual and transgressive image that had characterized her over the years to bring out a more mature, versatile and complex personality. From their relationship was born in 1982 a third daughter, Lou Doillon, who later became a model, singer and actress.
During the eighties, as well as in the films directed by Doillon, she also starred for Jean-Luc Godard, Patrice Leconte, Paul Morrissey and Agnès Varda, with whom she established an important professional partnership and who in 1988 dedicated the film to her ” Jane B. par Agnès V.”.
She was nominated twice for the César awards, France’s main film award, in 1984 for “La Pirate” by Jacques Doillon and in 1986 for “The Woman of My Life” by Régis Wargnier. At the Venice Film Festival in 1985, the jury recognized her performance in Marion Hänsel’s “Dust” as the best of the festival (ex aequo with that of Sandrine Bonnaire), but decided that for that year the award for best female performance would not have been awarded.
In parallel she continued her musical career, releasing the albums “Baby Alone in Babylone” (1983, Gold Disc in France) and “Lost Song” (1987), also written by Gainsbourg. In February 1987, the forty-year-old Birkin also made her live debut at the Bataclan theater in Paris, starting a recital activity to which she would devote herself regularly in the following years.
Jane was also the inspiring muse of the Hermès fashion house, which in 1984 launched the “Birkin Bag” dedicated to her and which over the years has become one of the so-called It Bags, the most iconic bags in the world. The chronicles tell that during a Paris-London flight in 1984 Jane Birkin was sitting next to Jean-Louis Damas, then President of Hermès, and she complained of not being able to find the right bag. She had recently become a mother for the third time and wanted a capacious accessory that was also very elegant, and he improvised the sketch of a ductile, spacious, rectangular-shaped bag: that was the first Birkin prototype that would conquer generations of women in Worldwide.
After her separation from Doillon, Birkin began to reduce his film activity, favoring music and theater. In 1990 “Amour des feintes” was released, the last album written for her by Serge Gainsbourg. After his former partner’s sudden death in 1991, Birkin paid tribute to him with “Versions Jane” (1996), a collection of rearranged Gainsbourg songs. In the same period she continued her activity as an actress in cinema and television and dedicated herself to directing, directing the autobiographical film “Boxes” in 2007.
From the 2000s onwards she was also active in the social and humanitarian fields, in particular to ask for the release of the Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2008; she also, as an Amnesty International ambassador, traveled to Bosnia and Chechnya, sang in the West Bank and Ramallah, and worked on behalf of the victims of the conflict in Rwanda. During a humanitarian mission in the former Yugoslavia, she met the writer Olivier Rolin, who became her last companion. You were among the two hundred signatories of the appeal against global warming published in 2018 on the front page of the newspaper Le Monde.
In 2016 Jane Birkin was honored by the Locarno Film Festival with a tribute to her career. In 2021 her daughter Charlotte dedicated the semi-documentary “Jane by Charlotte” to her. In 2022, Universal Music announced the complete reissue of the artist’s entire studio discography, from 1969 to the present.
On Sunday, July 16, 2023, Jane Birkin passed away in Paris, leaving everyone heartbroken but with a huge artistic and creative baggage to draw inspiration from.