The British-born, French singer and actress Jane Birkin, who rose to fame following her collaboration with Serge Gainsbourg and who inspired the luxury Hermès Birkin bag, has died aged 76 in her apartment in Paris.
In a message posted on Twitter, President Emmanuel Macron of France confirmed her death and called her a “French icon”.
Birkin was born in London, but became popular as a singer after moving to France. With her irresistible accent, androgynous style and doe eyes, she found herself to be the partner and muse of Serge Gainsbourg. Their highly erotic and fabulously free, suggestively whispered hits such as “Je t’aime… moi non plus”, “La Décadanse”, and “Sea, Sex and Sun” soon secured their place among the most legendary couples in showbusiness during the 1970s.
“Je t’aime… moi non plus” received popularity across the globe, yet it was banned on the radio in several countries and condemned by the Vatican due to its overtly sexual lyrics.
Birkin went on to pursue a solo career and released several albums, often singing in both French and English. Her notable acting credits include Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile and Evil Under The Sun.
She is also the inspiration behind the Hermès Birkin handbag, after fashion businessman and the then-CEO of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas, got into a chance encounter with the actress and singer about her frustration at not being able to find a bag big enough during an Air France flight from Paris to London in 1984.
As Birkin complained about the lack of large enough bags, especially for mothers, Dumas “immediately sketched a supple and spacious rectangular holdall with a burnished flap and saddle stitching”, according to the Hermès website.
The Hermès bag was soon born. One of the most exclusive bags, with some styles even costing many tens of thousands of dollars and having waiting lists of months, and sometimes years.
Throughout her career, Birkin has also been involved in various humanitarian causes, including working with human rights and refugee organisations, and namely Amnesty International and Unicef.
In 2022, Birkin and her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg made headlines as they took part in a protest video featuring stars such as Marion Cotillard and Juliette Binoche. The video saw them cutting off locks of their hair in support of protesters in Iran.
The Instagram video that used the hash-tag, HairForFreedom, gathered widespread support as Iran was engulfed by anti-government protests after the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s dress code.
Jane Birkin’s legacy reaches far beyond her music, films and style, to the pure impact she had on people and causes worldwide. She will be greatly missed, but her invincible character will continue to inspire many generations to come.