- words by Hannah Slapper, styling by Alice Cuffe
This week has been a celebration of gorgeous French style. Interestingly, Jane Birkin is often cited as a pinnacle of Parisian chic, although she was born and bred in the UK.
Despite being schooled in the peaceful environment of the Isle of Wight, Birkin's life was always surrounded with intrigue and interest. Her father was a respected member of the Royal Navy, who had been a spy during World War II, and her mother was a talented stage actress.
It's no wonder that she grew up with desires to be an actress, but with an extra sense of adventure. Partying her way around London during the swinging '60s, she found herself small parts in trendy film projects, and soon got hitched to James Bond music composer John Barry, who fathered her first child, a daughter called Kate Barry, who is now a photographer.
In 1968, Birkin somehow managed to convince a director to let her star as the lead female role in French film Slogan, despite not speaking the language. She was mesmerising in the part, and obviously to her co-star, Serge Gainsbourg, who was about to change her life forever. She left her marriage and became partners in all sense of the word with Gainsbourg, in a relationship that would last more than a decade.
Together they famously recorded the sexually explicit and often banned song 'Je t'aime...moi non plus', a title which later become one of their collaborative film projects in 1975. Travelling the world filming and singing, Birkin started to influence others with her carefree style. She regularly shocked with revealing clothes, going bra-less or wearing the tiniest shorts without underwear. However her dreamy expression and unkept hippy appearance balanced out any risque choices.
In 1973 Birkin gave birth to another daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, who has followed in her mother's footsteps and become another famously sexy and controversial actress and singer. Despite having a child and enjoying a co-inhabiting and co-working relationship, Gainsbourg and Birkin never married, which allowed them to come to an abrupt end in 1980.
Luckily the following year something rather wonderful happened. Birkin was flying from Paris to London and was using her favourite and much-used wicker basket as hand luggage. When she tried to stow it in the overhead compartment, it tipped on its side and all her valuables fell out onto the person sitting in the aisle seat. That person was Jean-Louis Dumas, the CEO of luxury clothing brand Hermès. He found it rather amusing, especially when she told him she would rather have had a leather weekend bag, but couldn't find one that suited her style.
In 1984 he released the Birkin bag in her honour, and it has since become one of their most iconic designs. It's a testament to the bag, which was inspired by one of their vintage pieces from 1892, that Birkin herself loved it, and used it for many years.
After yet another marriage, and another daughter, Birkin is still known as being a bridge of style over the English Channel. She exudes that effortless and simple grace of France, but with that added twist of courageous risk that Londoners still practice. Here are some pieces to help you on your way to some sensual Birkin style, complete with her failsafe bag.
1. J Brand, Low-rise Cut-off Denim Shorts; £180, motilo.com
2. Redline, Pure Yellow Gold Diamond Necklace; £570, motilo.com
3. Marni, Graphic Print Skirt; £356, motilo.com
4. All Saints, Cosby Hayden Jeans; £85, motilo.com
5. Maison Martin Margiela, Leather Sandals; £325, motilo.com
6. Acne, Copy Linen T-shirt; £70, motilo.com
7. Equipment, Nature White Signature Silk Blouse; £230, motilo.com
8. Juicy Couture, Dark Regal Angora-blend Sweater Dress; £220, motilo.com
9. Comme Des Garcons Homme, Plus Men’s Leather Belt; £120, motilo.com
10. Hermes Vintage, Birkin 40 Leather Bag; £17,800, motilo.com