July 16, 2023
Jane Birkin, the epitome of '60s and '70s chic and the adopted national treasure of France, was found dead in her Paris apartment on July 16. She was 76.
Her death was confirmed by former French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot, who said, "This departure is so sad. She was a beautiful person."
The sentiment was shared by many over the loss of a woman long celebrated for her loveliness and her effortless sense of style, but whose greatest legacy was that of her kindness and her tireless support of the rights of women and LGBTQ people.
More superficially, Birkin's name became synonymous with luxury — a chance encounter with an Hermès executive in the early '80s on a flight led to the brand's development of the iconic Birkin bag. Though the status-symbol carry-alls sell for $10,000-$500,000, Birkin herself only used one at a time, declaring them prone to becoming too heavy. In 2015, she formally asked to have it "debaptized" over the company's allegedly cruel manufacturing practices, but Hermès instead satisfied her complaints.
Birkin was born December 14, 1946, in London. She recalled merciless bullying at school for her boy-like figure, which, ironically, became a blueprint for the '60s waif look.
After a brief, youthful marriage to composer John Barry (1933-2011) and the birth of their daughter, fashion photographer Kate Barry (1967-2013), Birkin modeled and began auditioning for movie roles.
She caused a stir with a nude scene in Michelangelo Antonioni's (1912-2007) Blow-Up in spite of never having heard of the director, and went on to act in Kaleidoscope (1966) and Wonderwall (1968), meeting longtime partner Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991) a renowned French musician, actor and later director, on the set of their French film Slogan (1969).
They were a hot couple for a dozen years and collaborated many times, including the racy song "Je t'aime... moi non plus" (1969) and his 1975 film Je t'aime moi non plus, which, in spite of mixed reviews, resulted in a Best Actress César nomination.
Birkin gave birth to singer-actress Charlotte Gainsbourg (b. 1971) with the French pop provocateur.
Birkin acted in many, mostly French, films, but also made a splash in a pair of Agatha Christie murder mysteries with all-star casts, 1978's Death on the Nile and 1982's Evil Under the Sun, the latter of which among her acting high points.
Other film work included La fille prodigue (1981) and La pirate (1984) with director Jacques Doillon (b. 1944), with whom she had her daughter Lou Doillon (b. 1982), a singer-actress in her own right; La Belle Noiseuse (1991), Leave All Fair (1985), A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries (1998), and Elektra (2006).
In 2021, she appeared in the docu-drama Jane by Charlotte, her daughter's directorial debut, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
Cultivating an international following for her singing, she recorded 14 studio albums, released six live albums, and — prior to her stroke — frequently appeared in concert.
Kate Barry having preceded her in death in 2013, Birkin is survived by her daughters and her grandkids.