By Marianina Patsa
1968. A girl with a gap between her teeth and a glossy figure appears in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blowup, making the world go wild. “My role was nothing terrible. Then I decided to try my luck in France when I heard that Pierre Grimblat was looking for a cast for the film Slogan. I spoke awful French, I wasn’t very pretty, but I cried really well!” says Jane Birkin, who at the time had just split from composer John Barry, best known for scoring the James Bond films. But it was on the set of Slogan that she met Serge Gainsbourg. “He wasn’t nice to me at all on the set, he made me feel bad.” But this uncomfortable setting was not to last long. “It was a crazy night!” she says of the first night they jumped around Paris together, ending up in a hotel. Serge turned out to be “funny, cute, predictable.” They ended up living together for 13 years without getting married. She already had her daughter, Kate, from her first marriage. Later, Charlotte was born. One day Jacques Doillon asks her to direct her. Their collaboration would mark a parallel relationship. Birkin becomes pregnant with his child (Lou Doillon) and leaves Serge. After their separation, Jane and Serge remain friends. “To me he told me everything, until his death”.
In the collective subconscious, hearing the names Birkin/Gainsbourg means music. The song Je t’aime… moi non plus made them both world famous. Her sensual performance caused a scandal. Many radio stations refused to broadcast it. It took several years before this song was considered a pioneering achievement. Perhaps the world’s most famous handbag comes with the signature Hermes label, costs up to $150,000 and bears Birkin’s name. But after their crocodile version she shunned them, as she does not want her name associated with the commercial exploitation of animals.
In 2011, Birkin nearly died of leukemia. “I felt like a washing machine that was out of warranty. When it was all over, my solace was to watch movies and theater so I could watch other people’s stories, not my own.” But in 2013 her daughter, Kate, lost her life by falling out of her apartment window. This shook her deeply and for years she shunned the arts.
2017. Jane Birkin is here to stay and releases the album Birkin/Gainsbourg: Symphonique at the age of 70. At the same time, for the first time it seems she is finally managing to deal with loss. “I realized how important it is to work. It’s paramount to be with friends and to create.”
On July 16, JB (1946-2023) left us. Adieu….
Photographed by Eric Swayne, 1964
At the Carlton Beach Club, 1974
Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg on the set of the movie Slogan, June 1968_ By Gilles Caron