Jane Birkin will turn 76 this December. Who is she? Serge Gainsbourg’s longtime companion, actress, singer, style icon. A free, self-sufficient French woman who still has an English accent.

One of Jane’s three daughters, Charlotte Gainsbourg, recently made a documentary film «Jane par Charlotte» (premiere in Russia planned in May 2022). It’s a film dialogue, a mutual declaration of love, a conversation about the essentials and what seems insignificant but actually defines our lives. And by no means good-bye – it’s too early for Jane Birkin to leave us. She survived both oncology and stroke, but she loves life too much to just tell her adieu. Two years ago she recorded the album Oh! Pardon tu dormais, dedicated to his eldest daughter Kate, who in 2013 committed suicide by throwing herself from a window. “I think guilt has haunted us all our lives,- said Jane in Charlotte’s film.- The feeling that we could have done something and didn’t do it.”

«Jane par Charlotte» (2021)

She does not think of herself as a star or even a celebrity. “I have never, at any point in my life, thought of myself that way. I just lived, and everything was happening so quickly, without the slightest effort on my part. Even to think there was no time. So no career, no ambition». Now she is just Jane again – just like sixty years ago, when, unwillingly, she conquered the world.

Those who read her «Diary of the Monkey» know that in Jane’s childhood and adolescence, long and awkward, was not showered with parental love.  Her mother was a theatre actress, the muse of playwright Noel Coward and one of the first beauties of London. “I was constantly asked: Are you really Judy Campbell’s daughter? But you’re nothing like her!”. She adored her father, a professional soldier and rumoured spy, but he preferred the company of his son.

At seventeen, she married literally the first man she met. The 30-year-old composer John Barry (author of several musical themes for Bond villain films) was already divorced twice and had two children. This marriage was, as people would say now, outrageous in every sense. Barry was slapping her around, suppressed her psychologically, openly dated other women, and eventually dumped Jane with a daughter.

Jane still can’t figure out why she ever tied her fate to Barry, who only developed her childish complexes. At school, she was teased for her skinny legs and lack of breasts, gossiping that she was actually a boy. And her husband gave her a role  in some musical where her aria had the words: «Oh, I need, just need breast augmentation»

She didn’t know where to apply herself. She asked her uncle if she had a chance to become a movie actress. He replied evasively: «Depends on whether the camera loves you». Having decided to try the theatre, she received a mother’s instruction: «You will not be good enough for them anyway – you did not even study at the theatre school». When she auditioned for Graham Green for his new play «Carving the Statue» and fearfully could not say a word, he assured her that it was not important for the role of a deaf-mute idiot. The story almost repeated itself on the audition «Blowup» Antonioni, where she was being silenced, and when she broke down and started to cry, they said: «Well, this is what was required of you. Go take a picture for close-ups».

At some point moving to France and meeting Serge Gainsbourg were a relief. “I had a wonderful family, but, I must admit, it is hard to wear the weight of other people’s expectations and disappointments. When I came to France – wow! It was like I was born again. Nobody knew who my parents were, nobody expected me to behave, I could become who I wanted to be. I could be funny, bright, sexy, nobody judged me for anything, paid no attention to my schrubiness or the way I dress. It was a feeling of complete and unlimited freedom – as if I had found a new family».

She came to France to buck up after betraying her husband. She was offered a role in the film «Slogan» – completely in French, which she did not know. Serge Gainsbourg was supposed to be the partner in the film, at that time already an unconditional star. “Serge could choose any of the girls – it was his film. But he chose me – despite the fact that I did not understand any of his words, memorising his role just phonetically”.

About his first impression from Serge Jane said: «He had a very unusual face… and a terrible shirt». As a result, she worked on Serge’s wardrobe, but his face hypnotised her for a long thirteen years. “Serge was sarcastic, angry… and incredibly free. With him I found this freedom – so quickly and easily that I did not notice it”

Jane’s first husband convinced her that she would never undress in front of a camera – because she was so complex that she wore tights at home. With Serge Gainsbourg, Jane enjoyed filming naked. He took her to the Louvre to show women’s portraits of Lucas Cranach the Elder: «He painted you. And this is perfect beauty».

Not only Gainsbourg «did» Birkin, but also Birkin «did» Gainsbourg. Speaking of terrible shirts, she came up with the image of the romantic bully we imagine when we remember his name.

“Before meeting me, Serge always shaved smoothly – and looked much younger than his age, it annoyed him terribly. I thought, what if he grew an eight-day bristle? A man who doesn’t have time to shave even sounds sexy. Serge liked it, he even bought himself a trimmer, and the bristle became a kind of makeup that made his image more dramatic. He also liked shirts and rolled-up sleeves, but he had no vegetation at all. To balance that, I bought him wrist bracelets and leather lace decorations. Socks… I’m allergic to socks. When I see them, I see this man naked in his socks. So I went to the store Repetto and in a basket of discount shoes I got for Serge a couple of soft light loafers that need to be worn on the bare foot. The same thing with underwear. A man who does not wear underwear under jeans, even behaves differently and looks sexier».

Jane became Gainsbourg’s personal stylist, muse, and mother, bringing him to his senses after another bender. It is a mistake to think that we were a star couple like some Kennedy! We lived freely, we didn’t care what people thought about us. We would have fun all night, come home in the morning to wake their daughter and take them to school (Charlotte was born of Serge), then we would fall asleep, and go out again in the evening. We were not a public couple, we enjoyed freedom and no taboos».

In the mid-1960s, England was associated with freedom (including sexual freedom), swinging London, rollings, Twiggy, and Mary Quant miniskirts. France, by contrast, was neat and modest, with perfectly haired French women wearing knee-length skirts. Jane Birkin brought to France a wind of freedom and change, showing how Catherine Deneuve in the «Day Beauty» ,that they need to open a neat mouse coat and we would see their bold and sexy lingerie.

She appeared on the steps of the Cannes stairs in a dress worn backwards. She fashioned wicker basket bags. And later convincingly proved that the real woman has no age,she cut her hair at 40  and restarted her career – now as a singer. “I still like my “forty plus” better than my “twenty plus”. I changed a mini to men’s shirts and wide pants, and I realised how fragile women can look in all those boys’ clothes. I stopped liking ladies’ dresses and I stopped painting eyelashes in three layers – because all this makes you only older».

The song Je t’aime… moi non plus, which Gainsbourg performed in 1967 in a duet with Brigitte Bardot, was never released in the original version. Two years later, he offered Birkin to re-record it, and they did it in Marbella, literally in half a day. “When we returned to Paris, Serge took me to a wine bar and asked the owner to turn the tape recorder at full volume.  I always remember the moment when all the guests of the bar were silent at the same time, and their knives and forks hung in the air. Serge hugged me and said: “You know, baby, and you and I have recorded a hit”».

They broke up not because of cheating or because they didn’t love each other. Their relationship has moved on to another dimension – they’ve become more friends than lovers. “Some people still consider Serge a madman, a dangerous genius like Byron. It is, of course, a delusion – Serge was a clown by nature who always needed an enthusiastic audience. He knew no measure, he could give 500 francs to a taxi driver, and then spend a few days penniless. He lived in adoration. I always liked being in the shadows”.

But her life did not end after breaking up with Gainsbourg. She met director Jacques Dwight, and had another daughter with him – Lou. She never remarried, though she still thinks marriage is a great, romantic idea. I believe that someone manages to live to old age by holding hands. I wish it was me. I almost made it with Serge. In any case, “If I married a second time, it would be him». Jane is calm about her age, and any changes she makes seem beautiful. At 75, she dances – sometimes in a club, with daughters Lou and Charlotte, sometimes at home, to the music of some Michael Jackson. «This is much more fun than Pilates».

Photo: youtube.com, kinopoisk.ru, reddit.com, swisslife.com