The story of the Birkin Bag offers a window into its muse's sense of style, which is equal parts elegant, scattered, and — for lack of a better word — goofy. In 1981, the English singer and actress was on an airplane when her plastic bag broke, spilling its contents all over the floor. She reportedly said to the man sitting next to her, "I wish Hèrmes would make a bag that could fit all my things." Turns out that man was Jean-Louis Dumas, head designer of Hèrmes, who took her up on her request.
Jane's life story bears some resemblance to a well-used Birkin Bag — it's messy and full of stuff, but the iconic exterior still looks good. 64 years old, she's not finished reinventing herself, and she continues to record albums and make movies. This year, Light in the Attic Records released digital versions (for the first time ever) of two of her better-known albums: Jane Birkin et Serge Gainsbourg (1969) and Di Doo Dah (1973), her first solo album.
Birkin was born in London in 1946. She first gained attention as an actress at the age of 20, when she snagged a minor role in Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, a controversial film about photography, sex, and murder. Birkin played "the blonde," a leggy model who takes off her clothes and jumps into an awkward "swingin' sixties" sex scene that drew plenty of scandal at the time, but now seems as ridiculous as a clip from an Austin Powers movie.
Jane's relationship with French singer Serge Gainsbourg — who she met on the set of the 1969 film Slogan — further cemented her status as a sex symbol. Their romance lasted 13 years and produced several albums as well as a daughter, Charlotte, now also an actress.
The couple's first hit single was Je t'aime... moi non plus (French for "I love you... me neither"). The Pope called on people to boycott the song for its explicit eroticism. (It includes a lot of heavy breathing and some saucy organ music.) Jane told The New York Times, "The Pope speaking out against ‘Je T’Aime … Moi Non Plus’ was the best P.R. we could ever have."
After years of dramatic ups-and-downs in their relationship, Jane left Serge in 1981 for the director Jacques Doillon. She now has three daughters: Kate Barry (from her first marriage to John Barry), Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Lou Doillon. Despite their breakup, Serge and Jane remained close for many years, and he dedicated his 1990 album, Amours des feintes, to her.
Vanity Fair published a brief bio of Serge Gainsbourg after his death, and the piece offers several pictures of the Gainsbourg family's life. In 2007, VF interviewed Jane at her Paris home:
- "Her apartment, on the Rue Jacob, is a worldly display of exotic bohemianism. Paisley-covered walls are adorned with hundreds of framed photos of Serge, Jacques, Charlotte, Kate, Lou, Jane's grandchildren, their drawings, Charlotte's movie posters, and Serge's handwritten song lyrics. Stuffed rabbits wearing pearl necklaces are grouped on a table playing cards. There is a collection of majolica pottery, a huge flat-screen TV, and everywhere you look, there are books—lining the shelves in her bedroom and study. And although originally designed by her and named for her, that Hermès Birkin bag is nowhere to be seen."
This description hints at Jane's disregard for fashion, which — of course — makes her even more stylish. She's an out-and-out rebel who inspires others to lead their own messy lives with confidence, elegance, and a sense of humor.
OTHER STYLE ICONS
- Harry Potter
- Jean-Luc Godard
- Grace Kelly
- Jarvis Cocker
- Mark Twain
- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
- Ernest Hemingway
Photos: Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin Poster from All Posters | Czech Republic (1), Hermes Black Crocodile Birkin with Pave Diamonds sold at Doyle New York for $64,000 (2), Screenshot from Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up via Stylecaster (3), Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin Poster from All Posters | Ireland (4), Jane Birkin et Serge Gainsbourg (1969) on Amazon.com (5), Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin Poster from All Posters | Czech Republic (6), Di Dooh Dah (1973) on Amazon.com (7), Jane Birkin at the American film festival in Deauville, Normandie, France (1985) used under GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons (8), Jane Birkin at the Vienna International Film Festival 2009, used under Gnu Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons (9), Jane Birkin at the Festival de Venise, 2009, used under Creative Commons License 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons (10)