Jane Birkin, the Brit-born singer/actress who became a cultural icon in England and France, was a successful model prior to her first big acting break. Her first ‘role’ was as a girl on a motorcycle in the Dick Lester film “The Knack… and How to Get it.” The next year, Jane really emerged on the film scene when she was cast in the quintessential mod film “Blowup” as ‘the blonde’ model. Her roles in 1966’s “Blowup,” and 1968 the George Harrison-scored film “Wonderwall,” cast her as a child of the Swinging London scene. “Wonderwall” also had her playing a model, named Penny Lane. The costumes were designed by “The Fool” – who also designed clothes for the Beatles, Anita Pallenberg, Pattie Boyd, and many other 60s stars – and the film became a testament to the late 1960s London. Following that film, Birkin took the role as Évelyne in “Slogan,” which would be her first of many French films. She costarred alongside Serge Gainsbourg and duetted with him on the film’s theme song.
Other roles Birkin had were in “The Swimming Pool,” “Death on the Nile,” “Evil Under the Sun,” “La fille prodigue,” “La pirate,” “Love on the Ground,” and “La belle noiseuse” – the majority of her roles having led to nominations for César Awards. Birkin has also recorded several albums, collaborating with artists as diverse as Feist, Franz Ferdinand, The Smiths, Rufus Wainwright, MC Solaar, Francoise Hardy, and Beck. Her most notable singing collaborator is Serge Gainsbourg, who she shared a relationship with for twelve years. In 1969, Birkin and Gainsbourg released the duet “Je t’aime… moi non plus” which was so controversial at the time that it was banned from all radio stations in the US, UK, Italy and Spain. The song was sung in French and became very popular all over Europe, despite its overt sexuality. It was originally written for Brigitte Bardot until Gainsbourg initiated a relationship with Birkin. In 1975, Jane Birkin starred in a film named after that song, which was directed by Serge Gainsbourg.
Birkin has been married three times, first to “James Bond” composer John Barry from 1965 to 1968, marrying him when she was only eighteen. She had a daughter, Kate Barry, with him in 1967. Her next was with Serge Gainsbourg, and she had a daughter Charlotte with him as well. This relationship ended in 1980, when Jane left him for Jacques Doillon, who would become her third husband. In 1982 she gave birth to her third daughter Lou.
Birkin is still active in her singing and acting career, though now she focuses more on humanitarian work. I have always admired Jane Birkin’s style – it’s a healthy mix of French timelessness and British trendiness. I don’t know if that made much sense, but I think that British girls are usually so on point with what is popular (even sometimes being the catalyst for what is about to be popular) and French girls have this air of classicism in what they wear but Jane’s style has somehow found an equilibrium between the two. Jane’s fashion legacy will live on – no matter if she wears nylon track suits and white Keds for the rest of her life. In the mid-1980s, Hermès designed and named a bag in honor of her after she complained about not having a bag big enough to use when travelling. The Birkin bag has become the most expensive and most sought-after of all Hermès bags, though Jane herself hasn’t used the bag in recent year, citing shoulder pain as the reason. I just thought that last bit was funny.