Jane Birkin. Please don't put her in a bag

The French cry for her, even though she was born British. However, she was considered a French national treasure due to her long-term residence on the Seine, her artistic achievements, and above all, her legendary relationship with Serge Gainsbourg.

The world knows her randomly and quite inconsistently. Hardly anyone noticed her in the movies, although she participated in over 80 productions. One of them is Antonioni's "Blow-Up" (1966), a mystery thriller that directly defied moral norms even in the film industry. On the music scene, she appeared as a brave (more than Brigitte Bardot, for whom the piece was written) performer of the timeless hit "Je t'aime ... moi non plus".

Finally, her name was made famous by ... a handbag. Well, you know, the one made of crocodile skin, produced by leatherworkers for the Hermès company.

Screw you

This is the most elegant (?) way to translate "je t'emmerde" (which is not a vulgar, but not a very polite phrase), and in that manner Jane Birkin turned to the rapper Mickey 3D 20 years ago in the album "Rendez-vous" (released a year later) – that means dates or meetings. These are musical and verbal dialogues with music scene artists, from traditionalists to contemporary innovators. All rather in French, although there is also an Italian clash/event with Paolo Conte: "Chamami adesso" ("Call me now").

But the most important is the song-interview inaugurating the album: "Je m'appelle Jane". Mickey 3D asks, "Tell me Birkin, what's this old accent that you drag around and makes you seem unpleasant ?" - "It's the British accent," explains JB. Then, in a laid-back fashion, they talk to each other over a musical background about why Birkin is still beautiful, youthful, skinny and wears '69 jeans.

As for the outfit - she explains that's because she is a cheapskate; she remains attractive because she is clever; she walks with her shoes into puddles because she still feels like a kid. And she's so sensitive that she starts crying when someone is in danger. Also, "I'm not Minnie, you're not Tarzan, your name is Mickey, so f…k you".

That British accent was actually true. Despite living in Paris for many years, Jane carried it to the end. However, it didn't interfere with the career, maybe even adding a little charm to it. "Rendez-vous" was recorded a year after she was diagnosed with leukaemia, but she couldn't care less about conventions.

Nevertheless, it was not the doctor's verdict but the tragic death of her eldest daughter Kate (born of a relationship with John Barry, a film music composer) that broke Jane. In December 2013, Kate "fell off the window" of her Paris apartment. Suicide?

It is not for me/us to judge the suffering of the mother (or half-sister Charlotte), but the event was said to have been traumatic for both of them. Fortunately, Jane somehow recovered from the shock. Four years later, she recorded two more albums, drawing vitality and inspiration from the output of her ex-spouse. It was to his brilliant intuition that she owed her fame - also thanks to Serge Gainsbourg's reputation as a scandalmonger. Eighteen years older than Jane, he guided her to the path followed later by the whole regiment of ladies, girls and teenagers, who - instead of having singing abilities – had plenty of charm, sex appeal and some nerve to pursue the goal.

Apparently, Jane never got past the phase of girlhood, of childish innocence. Therefore, she easily got away with sexual provocations: she appeared to do it unconsciously. Birkin seemed to whisper as if willing to give herself out to the male-female caresses at the same time. In addition, she gave the impression that she was confiding in us, the listeners, and admitted to her privacy. Or – that she allowed you to peek at her in intimate situations.
Those mega-hit "Je t'aime..." whispers began the era of infantile singers pretending to have sex in front of the microphone. The actual romance that blossomed between "beauty" and "the beast" usually added spice to the piece. Whoever listened carefully to this most famous sung dialogue of a pair of lovers knows that it is more about sex than about affection. In the greatest summary: she declares love, but he indicates doubts about it. She finds the way: come on baby, deep. Quick, faster. Now hold. Because I'm coming.

Of course, it must have clicked. Birkin perfectly matched the needs of the time. Child-woman, the top type of the second half of the 60s. Like Twiggy. And carefree copulation (remember the slogan "make love, not war") served as the ideology of the flower children generation.

Scout version

Where are those house parties? Wojciech Gąssowski sang nostalgically in the rhythm of oompah-oompah.

After 1969, even under the roofs of the Polish People's Republic, those sung whispers with a truly breathtaking musical intro hit the dance floor. If anyone could grasp the sense and understand the message, they knew the ambiguity. Those who did not understand Molière's speech also comprehended that a male-female act was being performed and that she wanted more than he did, although, after a while, he also became passionately inflamed.

The inflated censorship – this time moral, because of the Polish People's Republic, much more prudish than the Western or the U.S. one – was resisted by Jacek Fedorowicz in the Scout Radio Station. In 1971, he "translated" the piece from French into Polish, in a version for Cub Scouts. In his translation, the girl and boy scout are going on a trip to the Amur River with a map file and other necessary things. She would follow him even to the ends of the earth because "he knows!" how to get there. The girl scout was a bit tired as it was an exhausting trip - hence the final puff and blow. I recommend it to everyone; you can find it on YouTube.

     As for the original version of the song: It was created at the request of Brigitte Bardot, Gainsbourg's beloved at the time (1966), as "the most romantic song ever imagined". The publication of the text variant with the participation of the greatest French star was opposed by her then-husband (which is somewhat understandable). Instead, the young and beautiful Englishwoman with whom the author-singer established close contacts had no qualms. Since then, Jane Birkin has been the target of cameras, media and gossip. And Serge found his Galatea.

Between the Thames and the Seine

She was described as a 'fashion icon'. I wouldn't say I like this term, but you have to admit - she had a good style and qualities given by nature. She had lush hair and long legs, with which she attracted attention in the shortest possible miniskirts. Then, however, she gave up dresses, replacing them with jeans, wide men's trousers, voluminous shirts or oversized sweaters. Her way to elegance was a slight nonchalance and ease with which she wore expensive designer clothes. You can say, the quintessence of French chic. This is how she presented herself at Carnegie Hall in 2017 when she gave a concert (recorded in the album) "Birkin Gainsbourg. Le Symphonique". Even the fully-fledged symphony orchestra could not cover up Mrs Jane's vocal shortcomings. Nonetheless, the ovations were endless. The 71-year-old icon still looked girly!

But let's go back to those days of the mini-jupe. Jane was a typical child of her era, generation and environment - a phenomenon that went down in the history of culture as Swinging London. All these young people were cute, a little jaded, rebellious and creative. They cut themselves off from the older generation and created their own art, fashion and - above all - music.

Birkin didn't even notice how in this muddle, she became married at the age of 19. She married the famous (15 years her senior) composer John Barry, for whom blockbuster soundtracks seemed to write themselves. The happiness lasted three years, including time for the birthday of JB's first daughter - Kate.

After her divorce, Birkin went across the English Channel to lick her wounds working in the film industry. And ... she got the lead role in "Slogan", despite her lack of French-speaking skills. On the set, she met another musical genius, also more advanced in age and experience than her - Serge G. Something flared instantly!

France sweet or spicy? Wine, cheese and fashion lovers are also bloody revolutionaries

Paris - the city of artists. Today, it is also a city of blocks of flats, where thousands of people live a life that no one wants to know anything about.

see more
Too heavy to carry

What happened next, everyone knows. Jane put up with Serge for 12 years as the composer drank heavily. However, even after their split, the couple remained best friends, to the point where Gainsbourg became godfather to Lou, Birkin's third daughter, born to her next partner Jacques Doillon - film director, screenwriter, producer and actor. And the still-attractive mother continued her stage career, recording albums and ... living off the cult surrounding Serge.

Her name was further made famous by the bag. The one made of crocodile leather, designed and made for the exclusive Hermès fashion house. The story is repeated ad nauseam, how Birkin - sitting on a plane next to the president of Jean-Louis Dumas company - pulled out a straw basket from the hatch above the chair, and all it's content (of the basket) dumped out upon the head of the noble gentleman.

As a result of this adventure, a new bag model was created and named after the actress Birkin. Later it entered the list of the most iconic fashion objects. There are legends about the easiest way to get this expensive accessory; how long you need to twiddle your thumbs on the waiting list; what the individual pieces are made of.

The funniest thing is that Jane herself used her bag only for a while, then put it away in her wardrobe, as it was much too heavy for her. And in 2016, Birkin asked Hermès to withdraw her name from the product. This way, she protested against cruelty towards crocodiles - donors of these characteristic skins. As we know, the company did not comply with the star's wish. The ‘Birkin’ handbag is still considered a tasty morsel in the wardrobe of many celebrities and surely became a capital investment.

Hopefully, Jane (12/14/1946 – 7/16/2023) will be remembered for other reasons.

– Monika Małkowska

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

–translated by Katarzyna Chocian
Main photo: Jane Birkin fans say goodbye to their idol. Photo. EPA/TERESA SUAREZ Supplier: PAP/EPA
See more
Culture Previous issue
Big little man
He contributed to the spreading of nationalist ideas in Germany and Italy.
Culture wydanie 10.11.2023 – 17.11.2023
Watch on king’s hand or mistakes in films
In the film “Katyń” a fragment of a yellow “M” letter can be seen against the red background of McDonald’s.
Culture wydanie 10.11.2023 – 17.11.2023
Time when bones reanimate and return to new life
“Paint in such a way that Poland resurrects” – Malczewski would tell his students.
Culture wydanie 8.09.2023 – 15.09.2023
Political dimension of talent
Leni Riefenstahl was found to have merely “sympathized” with the Nazis, her cases were allowed to fall under the statute of limitations. She died in 2003, aged 101.
Culture wydanie 1.09.2023 – 8.09.2023
Samurai sword of mass culture
The director, on being removed from the production of a film, attempted suicide by slitting his wrists 36 times.