From sexy singer to film star - Jane Birkin at 70 | Music | DW | 14.12.2016
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From sexy singer to film star - Jane Birkin at 70

The scandalous song "Je t'aime" made her world famous, but Jane Birkin also received a lot of attention as an actress. She turns 70 on December 14.

Jane Birkin became not only famous, but also notorious for her song "Je t'aime." It remained her only international hit. Actually, the text written in 1967 by composer and chansonnier Serge Gainsbourg wasn't really meant for her in the first place. Gainsbourg originally intended the piece for his former romantic interest Brigitte Bardot, hoping he could produce it with her. Bardot did record the song, but then, out of consideration for her husband Gunther Sachs, asked Gainsbourg not to release it.

Scandal around 'Je t'aime'

Jane Birkin und Serge Gainsbourg (Imago/ZUMA/Keystone)

Their song "Je t'aime" shocked many listeners

Serge Gainsbourg was then more successful with his lover and later wife Jane Birkin. They'd become a couple by 1969, touching the hearts of audiences with their groanings and moanings. However, not all listeners were pleased. To some, their orgasm in the form of a song was a scandal, and in numerous countries, the song ended up on the index. During the course of the song, the initially tender "Je t'aime" escalates into an unmistakable groaning.

Even those who didn't speak French definitely got the message. Particularly provocative was the text, "Je viens," and Gainsbourg singing "I go like an erratic wave, coming between your loins," was equally obscene in the ears of radio listeners and program producers. Many broadcasting stations, especially in Britain and Germany, boycotted the song.

But in spite of that - or maybe because of it - more than a million records were sold within a few months, making Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin famous overnight. Birkin was in her early 20s when she moaned "Je t'aime, moi non plus" into the microphone. She became a sex symbol of the 1960s and 70s although she later claimed not to have identified with that image - although it certainly didn't do her career any harm.

Birkin's career as an actress

Jane Mallory Birkin was born in London on December 14, 1946. In the late 1960s, she went to France where she still lives in the Bretagne, in the vicinity of Saint Pabu. She started her career as an actress and in 1967 she was awarded a Palme d'Or in Cannes for her performance as a photo model in Michelangelo Antonioni's cult film "Blow Up."

Serge Gainsbourg französischer Schauspieler (picture-alliance/dpa)

French actor Serge Gainsbourg

Birkin owes her career as a singer mainly to Serge Gainsbourg. She lived with him until 1981. Their daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg followed in her mother's footsteps as an actress and a singer.

Jane Birkin has three daughters from three different men: Charlotte Gainsbourg, the photographer Kate Barry, and actress and singer Lou Doillon. Kate Barry's father is Birkin's first husband, John Barry, who composed the music for James Bond films. Kate Barry died three years ago after having fallen out of a window. Lou Doillon's father is Birkin's third husband, director Jacques Doillon.

Serge Gainsbourg wasn't only a womanizer, but also a drinker, and Jane Birkin left him in the early 1980s. Despite their breakup, they continued to sing together. When Gainsbourg died in March 1991, French newspapers called Jane Birkin "Gainsbourg's widow" in their headlines. Gainsbourg devoted his last album "Amours des Feintes" to her.

Birkin's new partner, Jacques Doillon, helped her get some important roles in the 1980s, so that she could make a mark as a serious actress. She played in more than 40 films, among them the erotic film "Egon Schiele - Excess and Punishment" in 1981.

Birkin Bag des französischen Labels Hermès (Getty Images/AFP/M. Fedouach)

The "Birkin Bag" was designed on the basis of Jane Birkin's own sketches

The perfect Birkin bag

In 1984, the Paris-based fashion designer Hermès personally created a bag for Jane Birkin based on a designed that was sketched on a flight from New York to Paris. Birkin had met the chairman of Hermès, complaining to him about an Hermès bag that she thought was too small. The two of them then scribbled a design on a napkin that served as a model of the first Birkin bag collection.

After the death of Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin first wanted to end her career as a singer, but changed her mind. These days, Birkin doesn't perform quite as often as she used to, since she has suffered from an autoimmune diesease since 2012. And she still grieves the death of her daughter Kate, who fell out of a window of her Paris apartment at age 46. The police found anti-depressants in her apartment. Reacting to that shock, Birkin totally withdrew from public life for an entire year.

Paris Modenschau Prêt-à-porter Yves Saint Laurent Lou Doillon, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin (picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Camus)

Jane Birkin with her two daughters Lou Doillon and Charlotte Gainsbourg

Nowadays, Birkin is a frequent guest at the film festivals in Cannes and Locarno. In Switzerland, she received a Golden Leopard for her lifetime achievement. While Jane Birkin doesn't intend to play in new films, she is working on a new album right now.

"One day, I noticed that Serge was deeply inspired by classical music," she wrote on her website. And that inspired her to have his songs be accompanied by a symphonic orchestra. This year, she went on tour with that project. The album "Gainsbourg Symhonique" is set to be relased on March 24, 2017.


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