Jane Mallory Birkin, OBE (14 December 1946-16 July 2023) was an English actress, singer, songwriter, and model. Although she had a prolific career as an actress in British and French cinema, she attained international fame and notability for her decade-long musical and romantic partnership with French musician Serge Gainsbourg, as well as her status as an style icon immortalised by French luxury brand Hermès's Birkin Bag, created for and named after her.
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, and muse of Noel Coward. Her father, David Birkin, was a Royal Navy lieutenant commander and World War II spy. Her brother is screenwriter and director Andrew Birkin.
Birkin was raised in Chelsea, and described herself as a "shy English girl."
She was educated at Upper Chine School, Isle of Wight. At age 17, she met John Barry, the English composer best known for writing the music for many James Bond films, as well as numerous other movies like Out of Africa. They met when Barry cast Birkin in his musical Passion Flower Hotel.
They were married in 1965 and their daughter, Kate Barry, was born on 8 April 1967.
Birkin appeared in an uncredited part in The Knack ...and How to Get It (1965), her first appearance on screen. She had more substantial roles in the counterculture era films Blowup and Kaleidoscope (both 1966) and as a fantasy-like model in the psychedelic film Wonderwall (1968).
Birkin and her husband Barry divorced in 1968, and Birkin returned to live with her family in London, and began to audition for film and television roles in England and Los Angeles, California.
That same year, she auditioned in France for the lead female role in the film Slogan (1969). Though she did not speak French 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.
After filming Slogan, Birkin relocated to France permanently and started a passionate and creative relationship with her co-star Serge Gainsbourg, who would become her mentor.
In 1969, Gainsbourg and Birkin released the duet "Je t'aime... moi non plus" ("I love you ... me neither"). Gainsbourg originally had written the song for Brigitte Bardot, who sang with him but later asked him not to release the song. Gainsbourg kept his promise, but released the version he sang with Jane Birkin.
The song caused a scandal for its sexual explicitness, and was banned by radio stations in Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
"Je t'aime" made UK chart history on 4 October 1969 and the following week on 11 October, the song was at two different chart positions, 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.
It was also the biggest-selling single ever for a completely foreign-language record.
In 1971, Birkin and Gainsbourg had a daughter, actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The same year, Jane Birkin appeared on Gainsbourg's 1971 album Histoire de Melody Nelson, portraying the Lolita-like protagonist in song and on the cover.
She took a break from acting in 1971–1972, but returned as Brigitte Bardot's lover in Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman (1973).
In 1975, Jane Birkin 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 United Kingdom by the British Board of Film Classification. For this performance, she was nominated for a Best Actress César Award.
Birkin and Gainsbourg separated in 1980. After their separation, Birkin became partner of French director Jacques Doillion, and continued to work as both an actress and a singer, appearing in various independent films and recording numerous solo albums.
On 4 September 1982, Birkin gave birth to her third daughter, Lou Doillon, from her relationship with Jacques Doillon. They separated in 1990.
In 2016, she starred in the Academy Award-nominated short film La femme et le TGV, which she said would be her final film role.
On 24 March 2017, Birkin released Birkin/Gainsbourg: Le Symphonique, a collection of songs Gainsbourg had written for her during and after their relationship, reworked with full orchestral arrangements. In September 2017, she performed live in Brussels in support of the album.
In addition to her acting and musical credits, she lent her name to the popular Hermès Birkin bag which made her a style icon.
In her decade long love affair with Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin was seen everywhere. Everywhere she went, in any season, with any outfit, she was carrying a hand-woven straw basket. Even after she left Gainsbourg, she did not leave her basket.
In 1983, on her flight from Paris to London, Jane Birkin as always carried her "Jane basket", which failed this time when she put it in the overhead compartment, with all the contents fell to the floor. The man next to her seat, was French luxury label Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas who witnessed this comic scene.
Jane Birkin explained to Dumas that it had been difficult to find a leather weekend bag she liked. In 1984, he modified the design of a bag created in 1982, and created a black supple leather bag for her: the Birkin bag. Thus Jane Birkin became the style icon and the Birkin bag the status symbol. So much so that her third daughter Lou Doillon called herself "Daughter of the bag".
In the last two decade of her life, Jane Birkin's health became more delicate. In 2002, Jane Birkin was diagnosed with leukaemia and underwent rounds of treatment. Eleven years later, in December 2013, her daughter Kate Barry died after falling from a fourth floor apartment in Paris. It took Jane Birkin years to recover from the loss of her daughter.
In September 2021, Jane Birkin suffered a small stroke.
On 16 July 2023, Birkin was found dead at her home in Paris by her care giver. She was 76 years old.