“Serge was a great man. I was just pretty,” Jane Birkin used to say. But in the fashion industry, where her impact as a style icon is undeniable, few are likely to agree.
Long before stars relied heavily on stylists and creative directors to shape their image, the Franco-British star – who died aged 76 on Sunday – used her unique dress sense to project a new kind of femininity and evolving notions of sexual liberation. Her childlike silhouette and nonchalant style have become essential references in France and beyond, influencing fashion far beyond the Hermès bag that bears her name.
Birkin continues to inform creators like Céline’s creative director Hedi Slimane, former editor-in-chief of vogue Paris Emmanuelle Alt and dozens of contemporary brands like APC and Sézane, who continue to build businesses around the French-girl-chic model she shaped.
Birkin, who rose to fame alongside French musician Serge Gainsbourg (her partner until 1980), projected a more innocent and sultry alternative to the ultra-polished cinematic glamor of contemporaries like Catherine Deneuve, and a more flirtatious approach to sexuality than the character of the bomb at the edge of the beach. by Brigitte Bardot.
While her fashion debut was as the muse of Paco Rabanne – whose mod boots and skirts never made more sense than when they exposed Birkin’s thighs – the star mostly did her hair, applying a sultry, spontaneous touch that elevated simple pieces like white buttons. , jeans and knitted dresses. In the 1970s, Birkin came to epitomize free-spirited “boho” chic – carrying market baskets as handbags was her idea – but avoided getting weighed down in the ruffles and prints that timestamp many looks from the era.
Later, when she took to the stage as a singer in the 1980s and 1990s, Birkin worked to refocus the narrative from her doll-like beauty to her artistry, cutting her signature bangs and dressing in an outfit androgynous who remains the mainstay of many women. today’s rockers: an international sex symbol, now dressed in green military jackets, men’s blazers, sweaters and schlumpy jeans, Birkin has used fashion to propel himself into a new phase of life and to the public eye.
Assembled but relaxed, everyday but elevated, Birkin resisted being put in a box. Careful not to be deemed too valuable by her association with luxury house Hermès (whose CEO designed the $10,400 bag bearing her name to suit her needs as a young mother), Birkin would throw the bag away as nothing was wrong until she stopped wearing it due to tendonitis, and decorated it with stickers for humanitarian causes like Doctors Without Borders.
The notion of “la Parisienne” was permanently altered by Birkin’s touch: while her fame was more pronounced in France and England, the idea of a “French girl” style as synonymous with understated and relaxed elegance continued to capture the imagination of fashion. An echo of Birkin’s influence could be felt during Valentino’s latest haute couture outing at the Château de Chantilly, where Kaia Gerber opened the show wearing a white button-up shirt tucked into a pair of trompe-l’gazar overalls. eye.
While the notion of “personal branding” only became widespread decades after Birkin’s rise to fame, she was surely its master: not only could she perfectly embody variations of the gamine, the Parisian and of the rocker, but she also played a key role in shaping the public image of Gainsbourg, who adopted the rumpled shirts and stubble that became his signatures on his advice.
Birkin’s style – which ranged from provocative outings like dark culottes under sheer mini-dresses to an embrace of ultra-androgynous, utilitarian garments – told the story of a woman who spent decades juggling her roles as artist, an icon of 20th century sexuality. liberation, and as a devoted partner and mother.
His three daughters followed in his footsteps: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Douillon also made careers leveraging their unique personal styles in film and music, while Kate Barry (who died in a tragic fall in 2013) was a fashion photographer working for the British vogue and Paris-Match.