Born: December 14, 1946
Birthplace: Marylebone, London, England
Jane Mallory Birkin, OBE (born 14 December 1946) is an English actress, singer, and songwriter based in France. She is best 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 and directed a film.
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.
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). 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. 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, Spain, and the UK.
"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.
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). 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.
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. 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.
Birkin recorded the song "Beauty" on French producer Hector Zazou's album Strong Currents (2003). 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. 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.
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, 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.” Nonetheless, Birkin did use the bag for some time. The Birkin bag has, over the years, become a status symbol, with prices ranging from US$$10,000 to $150,000.
In 2015, Birkin wrote a public letter to Hermès requesting her name be removed from the bag, 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. Hermès announced soon afterwards that it had satisfied Birkin with new reassurances on this.
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. The marriage ended in 1968.
She had a passionate and creative relationship with her mentor Serge Gainsbourg, who she met on the set of Slogan in 1968, a relationship that lasted 13 years. They never married, despite rumours and misreporting to the contrary. In 1971 they had a daughter, the actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. They separated in 1980.
On 4 September 1982 she gave birth to her third daughter, Lou Doillon, from her relationship with the director Jacques Doillon. 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.
Her grandchildren are Roman de Kermadec (born 1987) from Kate Barry, Ben (born 1997), Alice (born 2002), and Jo (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.
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.
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.
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Red Fox||Violet Harrison||Ian Toynton|
|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|
|2016||La Femme et le TGV||Elise||Timo von Gunten|