Style Icon: Jane Birkin
by Athena Alvarez
Many female - and male - stars of the seventies are remembered for the colorful, the outrageous, the feathery, belly-baring outfits Cher wore performing on The Sonny and Cher Variety Show, the Halston dresses seen so often on Bianca Jagger and Margaux Hemingway in Studio 54, the platforms and velour seen on a million disco dance floors, the leather jackets and safety pins of punk.
However, it can be argued that just as groundbreaking and important for 70s fashion was the cool, simple, minimalistic style of Jane Birkin. The English model and actress with a very French laissez-fairs take on life, love and career set many a fashion trend in her time and still inspires to this day.
The daughter of theatre actress Judy Campbell and World War II spy David Birkin, Jane grew up with much excitement in her home in Chelsea, but was still a shy, introverted, bookish and intelligent young lady, Although she was a “shy English Rose” in every way, she was exposed to the life of showbiz via her actress mother and quickly developed an interest in entering the business. However, first, she got married at 18 to composer John Barry, whom she had met while studying and was immediately smitten by. She had her first daughter, Kate, in 1967, but after divorcing John the following year, focused her attention thereafter on starting her career.
Starting with small time modeling, the young Jane Birkin first appeared uncredited in a few Swinging London era films. A true daughter of the counterculture, she appeared as a goddess figure in the 1968 psychedelic film “Wonderwall.” When she got the opportunity to audition for the French film Slogan, she took it, despite not knowing a word of French - at that time. Winning the role, she starred in the film opposite French actor, singer and notorious womanizer Serge Gainsbourg - whom she would have a personal and professional relationship with for years to come, even a child together, the just-as-glamorous as her mother Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Indeed, Jane Birkin’s time and projects with Serge is what she is most famous for, other than being a style icon of the 60s and 70s.
In 1967, she released with Serge the famous song “Je t’aime moi non plus”, and later a film of the same name, in 1976, which was not only a career opus for both, but a lightning rod for controversy. The very sexual song was banned from the radio in multiple countries, and the movie, which concerned a love triangle resulting in attempted murder, was hated by mainstream critics, but Jane was awarded a Cèsar award for her role, an honor in French cinema.
At the film premieres, just like in her career and personal life, Jane kept her style effortlessly chic, with a hint of rebelliousness. Intricate white lace dresses with a deep V neck was as commonly seen on Jane as a plain T-shirt and wide leg 70s jeans. The humble Jane didn’t carry a high end handbag, instead, carrying all of her belongings in a small wicker basket. She once even used that same basket as an evening bag - ironic, considering that the iconic Hermès handbag bearing her last name can cost up to $300,000.
When people think of Jane Birkin’s impact on the fashion world and on the personal style of many, one word comes to mind: timeless. Jane would never look out of place in 2018, in fact, she inspired much of what dominates today’s fashion. On Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest, countless young women who reject the maximalism favored by reality stars and modern actresses, instead chase a “simple”, “minimalistic” look, clad in perfectly tailored Everlane jeans, white lace peasant tops, perfect T-shirt that bare just the right amount of midriff, in all neutral colors, are eternal echoes of Jane Birkin’s casual cool. She is also a huge inspiration to the online vintage community, especially those who love the 60s and 70s - those following the flower child, vintage look often have the same full bangs, eye makeup, and simple but chic style. Much like becoming a celebrated icon in France, despite being English, Jane Birkin became a fashion icon just by being herself, in simple clothes she felt most at home in.
When people think of the 70s, they think of polyester and disco, of the Led Zeppelin songs they heard every summer back then, or wish they had heard when they first came out. They think also, of the unique way the beautiful women of the silver screen, magazine page and rock star stage back then made everything, even simple pants and a T-shirt, even a wicker basket, look like a million bucks. And fashion, still thinks of, is still inspired by, and is forever in love with, the incomparable Jane Birkin.