Jane Birkin

Jane Birkin

Birkin in 1985
Born Jane Mallory Birkin
(1946-12-14) 14 December 1946
Marylebone, London, England
Occupation Singer, actress, director, songwriter
Years active 1966–present
Spouse(s) John Barry (1965–1968)
Partner(s) Serge Gainsbourg (1968–1980)
Jacques Doillon (1980–1991)
Children Kate Barry (1967-2013)
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Lou Doillon
Website janebirkin.net

Jane Mallory Birkin, OBE (born 14 December 1946)[1] is an English actress, singer, and songwriter based in France. She is also known for her relationship and musical partnership with Serge Gainsbourg in the 1970s and being the namesake of the popular Hermès Birkin bag. In recent years she has written her own album, directed a film and become an outspoken proponent of democracy in Myanmar.

Early life

Jane Mallory Birkin was born on 14 December 1946, in Marylebone, London. Her mother, Judy Campbell, was an English actress, best known for her work on stage. Her father, David Birkin, was a Royal Navy lieutenant-commander and World War II spy. Her brother is the screenwriter and director Andrew Birkin. She was educated at Upper Chine School, Isle of Wight.


Early career

Birkin emerged in the Swinging London scene of the 1960s, appearing briefly in the counterculture era film Blowup (1966) and as the fantasy-like model in the psychedelic film Wonderwall (1968). That same year, she auditioned in France for the lead female role in the film Slogan (1969).[2] Though she did not speak French[3] she won the role, co-starring alongside Serge Gainsbourg, and she performed with him on the film's theme song, "La Chanson de Slogan" the first of many collaborations between the two. In 1969, she and Gainsbourg released the duet "Je t'aime... moi non plus" ("I love you... me neither"). Gainsbourg originally wrote the song for Brigitte Bardot. The song caused a scandal for its sexual explicitness, and was banned by radio stations in Italy,[4] Spain, and the UK.[5]

"Je t'aime" made UK chart history in that on 4 October 1969 and the following week on 11 October, the song was at two different chart positions even though it is the same song, the same artists, and the same recorded version. The only difference was that they were on different record labels. It was originally released on the Fontana label, but due to its controversy, Fontana withdrew the record which was then released on the Major Minor label. Because there were Fontana singles still in the shops along with the Major Minor release, on 4 October 1969 the Major Minor release was at number 3 and the Fontana single at number 16. Also at that time it was the biggest ever selling single for a completely foreign language record. She appeared on Gainsbourg's 1971 album Histoire de Melody Nelson, portraying the Lolita-like protagonist in song and on the cover.[6]

She took a break from acting in 1971–72, but returned as Brigitte Bardot's lover in Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman (1973).[1] The same year, she had a supporting role in the horror film Dark Places with Christopher Lee and Joan Collins. In 1975, she appeared in Gainsbourg's first film, Je t'aime... moi non plus, which created a stir for frank examination of sexual ambiguity and was banned in the UK by the BBFC. For this performance she was nominated for a Best Actress César Award.[1]

Later career

Birkin appeared in the Agatha Christie films Death on the Nile (1978) and Evil Under the Sun (1982), and recorded several albums, including Baby Alone in Babylone, Amours des Feintes, Lolita Go Home, and Rendez-vous. She won Female Artist of the Year in the 1992 Victoires de la Musique.[1] She starred in two films directed by Jacques Doillon – as Anne in La fille prodigue (1981) and as Alma in La pirate (1984, nominated for a César Award). This work led to an invitation from Patrice Chéreau to star on stage in La Fausse suivante by Marivaux at Nanterre. She worked with director Herbert Vesely on Egon Schiele Exzess und Bestrafung in 1980, appearing as the mistress of Austrian artist Egon Schiele, played by Mathieu Carrière. Jacques Rivette collaborated with her in Love on the Ground (1983) and La Belle Noiseuse (1991, Nominated Césars best supporting actress). In 1985, she co-starred with John Gielgud, who was Katherine Mansfield's husband, in Leave All Fair (1985). She appeared in Merchant Ivory's A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries (1998) (which also used her song "Di Doo Dah") and in Merci Docteur Rey (2002). The end title song for Le Divorce (2003) featured her singing "L'Anamour", composed by Gainsbourg. In 2006, she played the title role in Elektra, directed by Philippe Calvario in France.[1]

Birkin recorded the song "Beauty" on French producer Hector Zazou's album Strong Currents (2003).[1] The cover art of Have You Fed the Fish? (2002) by singer-songwriter Badly Drawn Boy features her image and backing vocals by her daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg.[1] In 2010, she recorded a duet with Brazilian singer Sérgio Dias for a project by Dias and French band Tahiti Boy and the Palmtree Family.

Birkin bag

Hermès Ostrich Birkin bag.

In 1981, Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas was seated next to Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. Birkin had just placed her straw bag in the overhead compartment of her seat, but the contents fell to the floor, leaving her to scramble to replace the contents. Birkin explained to Dumas that it had been difficult to find a leather weekend bag she liked. In 1984, he created a black supple leather bag for her: the Birkin bag,[7][8] based on a 1982 design. She used the bag initially, but later changed her mind because she was carrying too many things in it: “What’s the use of having a second one?” she said laughingly. “You only need one and that busts your arm; they’re bloody heavy. I’m going to have to have an operation for tendonitis in the shoulder.”[9] Nonetheless, Birkin did use the bag for some time.[10] The Birkin bag has, over the years, become a status symbol, with prices ranging from US$$10,000 to $150,000.[11]

In 2015, Birkin wrote a public letter to Hermès requesting her name be removed from the bag,[11] stating she wanted the company to "debaptise the Birkin Croco until better practices in line with international norms can be put in place," referring to the cruel methods used to acquire the skins for the bags.[12] Hermès announced soon afterwards that it had satisfied Birkin with new reassurances on this.[13]

Personal life

Birkin was married in 1965 to John Barry, the English composer best known for writing the music for many James Bond films, as well as numerous other movies. They met when Barry cast Birkin in his musical Passion Flower Hotel. Their daughter, the late photographer Kate Barry, was born on 8 April 1967 and died on 11 December 2013.[14] The marriage ended in 1968.[15]

Birkin with her second daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg in 2010

She had a passionate and creative relationship with her mentor Serge Gainsbourg, whom she met on the set of Slogan in 1968, a relationship that lasted 13 years.[16] They never married, despite rumours and misreporting to the contrary.[17][18][19] In 1971 they had a daughter, the actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. They separated in 1980.[20]

On 4 September 1982 she gave birth to her third daughter, Lou Doillon, from her relationship with the director Jacques Doillon.[21] They separated in the 1990s. The Observer reported in 2007 that Doillon "could not compete with her grief for Gainsbourg" (who died in 1991), and that she had lived alone since their separation.[22]

Her grandchildren are Roman de Kermadec (born 1987) from Kate Barry, Ben (born 1997), Alice (born 2002), and Joe (born 2011) from Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Marlowe (born 2002) from Lou Doillon.

She is first cousin twice removed to theatre and opera director Sophie Hunter.[23][24][25]


Birkin's humanitarian interests have led her to work with Amnesty International on immigrant welfare and the AIDS problem. She has visited Bosnia, Rwanda, Palestine and Israel.

Awards and honours

In 2001, Birkin was awarded the OBE. She has also been awarded the French Ordre National du Mérite. She won the "Best Actress" award at the 1985 Orleans Film Festival for Leave All Fair. The jury of the 1985 Venice Film Festival recognised Birkin's performance in Dust as amongst the best of the year, but decided not to award a best actress prize because all of the actresses they judged to have made the best performances were in films that won major awards. Dust won the Silver Lion prize.[26]


Studio albums

Live albums

  • 1987 – Jane Birkin au Bataclan
  • 1992 – Integral au Casino de Paris
  • 1996 – Integral a l'Olympia
  • 2002 – Arabesque
  • 2009 – Au palace (live)
  • 2012 – Jane Birkin sings Serge Gainsbourg via japan
  • 2017 – Gainsbourg Symphonique

Selected filmography

Year Title Role Director
1965 The Knack ...and How to Get It a girl on a motorbike (uncredited) Richard Lester
1966 Kaleidoscope Exquisite Thing Jack Smight
Blowup The Blonde Michelangelo Antonioni
1968 Wonderwall Penny Lane Joe Massot
1969 La Piscine Penelope Jacques Deray
Les Chemins de Katmandou Jane André Cayatte
Slogan Evelyne Pierre Grimblat
1970 Cannabis Jane Swenson Pierre Koralnik
1971 Romance of a Horsethief Naomi Abraham Polonsky
1972 Trop jolies pour être honnêtes Christine Richard Balducci
1973 Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye Corringa Antonio Margheriti
Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman Clara Roger Vadim
Dark Places Alta Don Sharp
1974 Le Mouton enragé Marie-Paule Michel Deville
How to Do Well When You are a Jerk and a Crybaby Jane Michel Audiard
Serious as Pleasure Ariane Berg Robert Benayoun
Lucky Pierre Jackie Logan Claude Zidi
1975 La Course à l'échalote Janet Claude Zidi
Catherine et Compagnie Catherine Michel Boisrond
Sept morts sur ordonnance Jane Berg Jacques Rouffio
1976 Je t'aime moi non plus Johnny Serge Gainsbourg
1977 L'Animal the female film star Claude Zidi
1978 Death on the Nile Louise Bourget John Guillermin
1980 Egon Schiele – Excess and Punishment Wally Neuzil Herbert Vesely
1982 Evil Under the Sun Christine Redfern Guy Hamilton
1983 Love on the Ground Emily Jacques Rivette
1984 The Pirate Alma Jacques Doillon
1985 Dust Magda Marion Hänsel
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Nikos' former love" (voice) Marion Hänsel
Leave All Fair Katherine Mansfield John Reid
1986 La Femme de ma vie Laura Régis Wargnier
1987 Kung-Fu Master Mary-Jane Agnès Varda
Keep Your Right Up the fun-loving woman Jean-Luc Godard
Comedy! Her Jacques Doillon
1988 Jane B. par Agnès V. Herself and other characters Agnès Varda
1990 Daddy Nostalgie Caroline Bertrand Tavernier
1991 La Belle Noiseuse Liz Jacques Rivette
1995 One Hundred and One Nights Madame Radin Agnès Varda
1997 Same Old Song Jane Alain Resnais
1998 A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries Mrs Fortescue James Ivory
1999 The Last September Francie Montmorency Deborah Warner
2002 Merci Docteur Rey Pénélope Andrew Litvack
2003 Le Divorce singer (end title) James Ivory
2006 Boxes Anna Jane Birkin herself
2009 36 Views from the Pic Saint-Loup Kate Jacques Rivette
2010 Thelma, Louise et Chantal Nelly Benoît Pétré
2012 Twice Born The psychologist Sergio Castellitto
2013 Nobody's Daughter Haewon Herself Hong Sang Soo
2013 Quai d'Orsay Molly Hutchinson Bertrand Tavernier


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Profile at Allmusic.com
  2. "Slogan (AKA L'amour et l'amour)". FilmAffinity. 1969.
  3. Simmons, Sylvie (2002). Serge Gainsbourg : a fistful of gitanes : requiem for a twister (1st ed.). Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. p. 52. ISBN 9780306811838.
  4. Cheles, Luciano; Sponza, Lucio (2001). The art of persuasion: political communication in Italy from 1945 to the 1990s. Manchester University Press. p. 331. ISBN 0-7190-4170-8.
  5. Spencer, Neil (22 May 2005). "The 10 most x-rated records". Observer Music Monthly. London: Guardian Newspapers. Retrieved 3 August 2010.
  6. "Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire De Melody Nelson - On Second Thought". Stylus Magazine. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
  7. "Bag lady: Victoria Beckham's 100-Strong Birkin Bag Collection That's Worth £1.5m". The Daily Mail. UK. 20 May 2009. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  8. "In the Bag". Time magazine. 17 April 2007. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  9. Rubin, Julia (2012-02-27). "Jane Birkin Owns Exactly One Of Those 'Bloody Birkin Bags'". Styleite. Retrieved 2015-09-19.
  10. "The Birkin Rules". UK. 5 September 2006. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
  11. 1 2 Brannigan, Maura (2015-07-28). "JANE BIRKIN WANTS HER NAME OFF THE BIRKIN BAG". Fashionista. Retrieved 2015-09-18.
  12. "Jane Birkin Asks Hermes To Take Name Off Crocodile Handbag," AFP, 28 July 2015.
  13. Dombey, Daniel. "Hermès satisfies Birkin on farming crocodiles for bags". Financial Times. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  14. "Jane Birkin". RFI Music. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  15. Brophy, Gwenda (15 February 2009). "Time and place: Jane Birkin". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  16. Auld, Tim (13 February 2009). "Jane Birkin: marching to her own tune". The Telegraph. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  17. Robinson, Lisa (November 2007). "The Secret World of Serge Gainsbourg". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 3 September 2011. Contrary to rumors, Jane and Serge never did marry. "He said in France I'd need to be fingerprinted and have a blood sample", Jane says, "and I was slightly offended and said, 'What on earth for?' I also had a secret fear that marriage changed things, and so, in fact, we weren't."
  18. McKie, Andrew (25 February 2011). "Death Is Not the End". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 26 September 2011. Serge Gainsbourg and actress Jane Birkin often referred to each other as husband and wife, but in fact they were never married, according to Ms. Birkin's agent. An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Ms. Birkin twice as Gainsbourg's third wife
  19. Adams, William Lee (26 January 2010). "French Chanteuse Charlotte Gainsbourg". Time. Retrieved 26 September 2011. My parents weren't married so I don't have an ideal image of marriage that I'm hoping for.
  20. Barlow, Helen (9 June 2007). "A bit twisted". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  21. "Lou Doillon". Elle.fr (in French). Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  22. Adams, Tim (28 October 2007). "A charmed life". The Observer. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  23. "Sophie Hunter Superstar". Spiegel.
  24. "Les Heures Ou Je M'Eclipse". Record of the Day.
  25. "Guy & Sophie Hunter Chambers: Isis Project". WowHD.
  26. Dionne Jr., E.J. (7 September 1985). "Venice Festival awards top prize to Varda film". New York Times. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
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