The Universal Magazine

Jane Birkin: Portrait of an Anti-Fashion Icon

Jane Birkin young with an expressive look

Jane Birkin, a style icon from the 1960s to today, passed away on July 16, 2023, at the age of 76. The woman who marked generations with her relaxed elegance, androgynous allure, and iconic collaborations with the greatest designers, leaves behind an indelible stylistic legacy. From the mini-skirt to her navy blue Saint Laurent peacoat, to the creation of the Hermès Birkin bag, Jane Birkin will forever remain an inspiring figure. With subtlety and accuracy, she managed to impose an authentic style by cultivating the art of combining comfort and elegance. Her endearing personality made her much more than an icon: a true muse, whose imprint is anchored in popular culture. Through this article, we trace the remarkable journey of this exceptional woman who, with her inimitable style, has marked the world of fashion.

Young Jane Birkin and her first steps in British cinema

Jane Birkin, born on December 14, 1946 in Marylebone, in the heart of London, left us on July 16, 2023 in Paris. Coming from a cultured bourgeoisie, she was the daughter of Commander David Birkin and Judy Campbell, an actress and muse of the famous playwright Noël Coward. With her sister Linda and her brother Andrew, himself an actor and director, she formed a sibling group steeped in art and culture.

The daughter of a father who was a resistance fighter during World War II, a descendant of King Charles II and a cousin of the philosopher Bertrand Russell, Jane had royalty and rebellion in her blood. As a child, at the boarding school on the Isle of Wight, she was called "Ninety-Nine". Her film debut in 1964 in The Knack… and How to Get It, a flagship film of Swinging London, allowed her to pave her way to fame. Her undressing scene in Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1967, propelled her to the forefront, eclipsing her brief union with composer John Barry, with whom she had a daughter, Kate, in 1967.

Jane Birkin in 1966, audacious and in tune with the times in her white mini-dress, was refused at Maxim's because of her famous wicker basket
Jane Birkin in 1966, audacious and in tune with the times in her white mini-dress, was refused at Maxim’s because of her famous wicker basket

The impact of young Jane Birkin on 1960s fashion: from the Courrèges mini-skirt to Saint Laurent’s navy blue peacoat

In the heart of the 60s, Jane Birkin, a young star of British cinema, revolutionized the world of fashion. Her slender silhouette, echoing that of Twiggy, the star of Swinging London, offered a seductive alternative to Brigitte Bardot’s voluptuous forms.

Jane Birkin in the sixties, barefoot in a mini black dress
Jane Birkin in the sixties, barefoot in a mini black dress

Adopting casual chic, she seized the Courrèges mini-skirt, defying conventions with audacity and carefreeness. Her crochet dress for her wedding to John Barry in 1965 caused a sensation, as did her navy blue peacoat signed Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. Her simplicity in choosing a pair of jeans enhanced by a simple scarf as a belt became a signature.

Her appearances in Paco Rabanne‘s daring metallic and openwork dresses made her a modern and radical vision. Through these bold fashion choices, Jane Birkin, with her elegant nonchalance and androgynous style, managed to mark the imagination of 60s fashion.

Around the Same Time

Also read our article on Mary Quant who popularized the mini-skirt in the 1960s.

Meeting of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin: A reciprocal transformation of style

Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin met in 1968 during the filming of the movie Slogan. At that time, Jane Birkin, already popular for her "effortless chic" style, felt in competition with French women whom she found impeccable and sophisticated. While Gainsbourg was seduced by the exotic and elegant image of the Parisian woman, Birkin brought a daring freshness and spontaneity that contrasted with this sophistication.

Their romantic encounter led to a deep mutual influence in terms of style. Gainsbourg was already known for his bohemian dandy look, but it was Birkin who made him a true fashion icon. She modernized his look with a three-day beard, all-denim outfits, and the famous Repetto shoes worn barefoot. These stylistic details would become Gainsbourg’s signature, giving him a more nonchalant and sensual allure.

Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, a creative and nocturnal bohemian couple
Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, a creative and nocturnal bohemian couple

On her side, Jane Birkin broke with the image of Brigitte Bardot, the French sex symbol of the time, and stopped comparing herself to Twiggy, the British fashion icon. Her style became more relaxed and carefree. She got rid of the sophisticated outfits of her costume designer Jocelyn Rickards, opting for a more personal and unique style: a cashmere cardigan, an old pair of jeans, and sneakers. A style that would become emblematic of the 1970s and influence generations of women and fashion designers.

Jane Birkin The Swimming Pool: between Alain Delon and Romy Schneider

Settling in France, Jane Birkin landed a significant role in The Swimming Pool in 1969, sharing the screen with icons like Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, and Maurice Ronet. Her captivating performance in this cult film already established her in French cinema.

Jane Birkin in all her splendor in the 1960s
Jane Birkin in all her splendor in the 1960s

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg: "Je t’aime… moi non plus"

The following year, Birkin, led by Serge Gainsbourg, began her singing career with "Je t’aime… moi non plus". This daring single was a resounding success, thus ensuring her rise in the music world. She thus carved out a place for herself in the French artistic landscape, both in cinema and in music.

Jane and Serge, iconic couple of French song
Jane and Serge, iconic couple of French song

Jane Birkin’s Influence on 1970s Fashion: Parisian effortless chic

Jane Birkin’s wardrobe in the seventies is characterized by authentic simplicity, mixing comfortable and functional pieces, such as Vicky Tiel shorts, with surprising elements, such as a Portuguese straw basket turned into an iconic handbag. The latter testifies to her ability to transform everyday objects into true style statements.

Even when thoughtful, Jane Birkin has always been radiant and sensual
Even when thoughtful, Jane Birkin has always been radiant and sensual

Rather than conforming to established norms, Birkin expresses her unique personality through her effortless style. She skillfully blends casualness and elegance, creating a cool and carefree bohemian look, which had a considerable influence on the fashion of the time. It is this style, both casual and chic, that inspired many women to adopt a freer approach to fashion.

Jane Birkin in the 1970s with an iconic look from that era
Jane Birkin in the 1970s with an iconic look from that era

Despite her simple and casual style, Birkin does not completely abandon glamour. She regularly wears beautiful Saint Laurent dresses given to her by Gainsbourg, like the famous haute couture model in white lace that she wore to the Rothschild’s Proust ball in 1971 and on the steps of the Cannes Film Festival.

Evolution towards mature elegance: Jane Birkin’s style in her forties

In 1980, following her separation from Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin revitalizes her style by evolving towards mature elegance. Approaching her forties, she abandons artifice and adopts a stripped-down style. She believes that at a certain age, one must know how to give up "lady’s dresses" and excessive makeup, or risk becoming "terrifying". This transformation reflects her desire for authenticity and simplicity, once again affirming her status as a timeless icon.

Androgynous appearance in 1987: between Agnès b. men’s shirts, oversized pants and unlaced sneakers

In 1987, on stage at the Bataclan, Jane Birkin reveals an androgynous, bold style. She wears an Agnès b. men’s shirt, oversized pants, unlaced sneakers and reveals a suddenly shortened haircut. Despite their separation, the collaboration with Gainsbourg continues. When Serge, disconcerted by this radical change, suggests she "shine her lips" for her appearance, Jane persists: no makeup. She wants the audience’s attention to focus solely on Serge’s lyrics and music, demonstrating her desire to escape the norms of classic feminine seduction.

From meeting Jean-Louis Dumas to the birth of the Birkin bag at Hermès

Born in mid-air during a Paris-London flight in 1984, the idea of the Birkin bag is the result of a conversation between Jane Birkin and Jean-Louis Dumas, then head of Hermès. Jane, lamenting the absence of a bag that is both elegant and functional for a young mother, inspires Dumas with a revolutionary idea in leather goods. He designs a sophisticated tote bag. A rectangular, spacious and flexible bag is born, featuring saddle stitching and a polished wedge, with a compartment for baby bottles.

The famous Birkin bag from Hermès, still a best-seller in 2023
The famous Birkin bag from Hermès, still a best-seller in 2023

This Birkin bag, quickly became an icon of luxury, is as coveted on screen as off. Its elegant and practical appearance has won over celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett, even making appearances in popular productions such as Sex and the City, The Sopranos or Gilmore Girls.

This fruitful collaboration with Hermès continued well beyond the 1980s. In 2009, the house presents the Birkin Shadow, playing on the geometry of the original bag. Then comes the Birkin Faubourg, carrying the Hermès spirit in a bold play of materials and colors, and the Birkin Cargo, equipped with additional pockets for increased functionality. Each iteration perpetuates Jane’s vision, combining practicality, sophistication and a touch of carefreeness.

Jane Birkin in the 21st century

Jane Birkin’s style has continued to evolve over the decades. Her relaxed and androgynous silhouette is a continuous source of inspiration for designers.

From 2000, Martin Margiela invites her to walk for Hermès, where she wears a simple but elegant ensemble: a loose T-shirt, flowing trousers and a deep V-neck. This outfit seems directly inspired by her personal style.

Hedi Slimane, in 2016, chooses her for his Saint Laurent Music Project, highlighting not only the artist but also the fashion icon. In 2018, at a Gucci show, Jane Birkin made an impression by performing Baby Alone in Babylone while wearing a black tuxedo and a white shirt. These moments underline her ongoing influence in the world of fashion.

Jane Birkin’s collaboration with A.P.C. in 2022

The year 2022 was marked by an unexpected collaboration between Jane Birkin and Jean Touitou, founder of the brand A.P.C. Wishing to "perfect her everyday outfits", Jane Birkin accepted the challenge and began a series of discussions with Jean Touitou about their common search for simplicity and perfection. The result of these exchanges was a collection composed of nine pieces including cargo pants, a cotton tank top, and canvas sneakers, sold from September 2022. This range reflected Jane Birkin’s idea of a style that "hides our less slender shapes", focusing on colors that do not require "any struggle" and respecting her principles: gray, navy, black, and verdigris. The success was immediate, the items quickly sold out.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin: A Story of Styles

Jane Birkin and her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg (on the left in the photo), accomplices in life as on screen
Jane Birkin and her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg (on the left in the photo), accomplices in life as on screen

Charlotte and Jane have always cultivated creativity, as well as a sense of style. Although Charlotte has undoubtedly been inspired by her mother, she has managed to build a style of her own.

Jane’s relaxed simplicity and chic androgyny are reflected in Charlotte’s style, but with a touch of modernity and independence that is uniquely hers. This exchange of influences has allowed each to cultivate her own sense of aesthetics while paying tribute to their unbreakable bond.

Jane Birkin’s Legacy

Jane Birkin, a significant icon of cinema and song, left us on July 16, 2023, but her memory endures.

In terms of fashion, from the 1960s, Jane Birkin managed to disrupt norms in Britain and then in France by sporting innovative styles, successively sexy, bohemian, and androgynous. Her contribution to haute couture, notably through collaborations with Paco Rabanne, Saint Laurent, and Jean Paul Gaultier, has left an indelible mark. She thus inspired the Birkin bag from Hermès, now legendary. Iconic garments, such as the Courrèges mini-skirt or the Saint Laurent peacoat, also marked her stylistic journey.

In music and cinema, her notable roles, from Swinging London to today, have anchored her name in European cultural heritage.

Finally, numerous celebrities have paid tribute to her. These include Brigitte Bardot, Françoise Hardy, Carla Bruni, Olivier Rousteing, Simon Porte Jacquemus… These testimonies attest to her status as a timeless icon.

Authentic artist, Jane Birkin will remain an unforgettable figure with her piquant and unconventional personality.

Jane Forever
Jane Forever