15 July 2023 — Beloved Anglo-Franco actress, singer and model, Jane Birkin, has passed peacefully in her Paris home at age 76.
The news comes just two months after Birkin cancelled a string of concerts citing health concerns and two years since she suffered a stroke.
Few people have wholly embodied the term “muse” like Jane Birkin. A quintessential style icon of the 60s all through the 70s, Birkin’s magnetic visage, prolific acting career and landmark impact on French music exceedingly qualifies her as one of the biggest “it-girl”s to emerge from the previous century. Snapshots of Birkin throughout her life continue to hold gravitas even today, with her music and films serving as inspirations for each new generation of budding artists around the world. Ahead, we trace the brave and bold chapters of Birkin’s life, looking back at her most iconic looks and culture-shaping moments.
Skyrocketing into Fame and Romance
Born in 1946 to an actor mother and naval officer father, Birkin grew up in London where she married her first husband, music composer, John Barry, at just 17 years old. The union would last three years and birth to the couple their first and only daughter, Kate.
Birkin broke into the film industry 1966 in with her breakout film, Blow Up, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, playing the role of a beautiful ingenue which catapulted her to fame. Birkin hopped on the momentum of her overnight stardom to move across the channel in the following year, soon starring in the romantic comedy, Slogan, alongside French singer-songwriter, Serge Gainsbourg. Little did she realise, Gainsbourg (who was 18 years her senior) would soon become one of the greatest loves of her life.
Je t’aime… Moi Non Plus
The French famously welcomed Birkin as their own for her effortless style and devil-may-care attitude to norms, a more than perfect fit for Parisian life. Gainsbourg and Birkin would go on to enjoy their hedonistic reign as France’s most famous couple for the next 13 years, though never officially married. In February 1969, they released the iconic “Je t’aime… Moi Non Plus (I Love You… Me Neither)”. The song’s racy, provocative lyrics were condemned by the Vatican and banned in several countries then.
“He and I became the most famous of couples in that strange way because of Je t’aime and… he went on being my friend until the day he died. Who could ask for more?”, professed Birkin in a statement from 2006. “So, Paris became my home. I’ve been adopted here. They like my accent.”
In 1971, the couple welcomed Birkin’s second daughter to the world, Charlotte.
Influence on French Cinema
Birkin starred in over 70 films across her entire career: Death On The Nile, Evil Under The Sun, Cannabis, Wonderwall, The Pirate; the list goes on. Iconic films like 1969’s La Piscine have since become historic hall marks of French cinema, where Birkin plays teenage femme fatale, Penelope, who seduces a writer by a swimming pool along the Côte d’Azur. The role was later played again in a remake by Dakota Johnson in Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash.
Birkin and Gainsbourg’s relationship had its fair share of ups and downs — reportedly, Birkin once launched herself into the River Seine after throwing a custard pie in Gainsbourg’s face. The relationship in 1980.
Birkin had a third daughter, Lou, with French film director, Jacques Doillon. Her eldest, Kate, a fashion photographer, passed in 2013 after a tragic fall from a balcony in Paris. The remaining Birkin girls went on to have inspired careers in music, modelling and acting.
“Jane Birkin was a French icon. A complete artist, her voice was as gentle as her commitments were ardent,” tweeted French president, Emmanuel Macron. “She bequeaths to us a legacy of songs and images that will never leave us.”
“She embodied freedom, because she sang the most beautiful words of our language.”
Beyond cinema, Birkin’s legacy has also irrevocably changed luxury fashion as well at the House of Hermès. The famous Birkin bag launched in 1984 after Birkin reportedly met Hermés chief executive, Jean-Louis Dumas, on a flight from Paris to London where she discussed the need for an elegant bag to house all of her needs as a mother.
This article was adapted from an original, first seen on Grazia International.
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