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Jane Birkin, Actress, Singer and Style Icon Has Died at 76

CANNES, FRANCE - JULY 08: Jane Birkin attends the "Jane Par Charlotte (Jane By Charlotte)" photocall...
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Jane Birkin, the British-born, French actress, singer and style icon who rose to fame in the late 1960s and inspired the Hermès Birkin bag, passed away on Sunday at the age of 76. French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed the news, calling her a “French icon” in a message posted on Twitter. Birkin was reportedly found dead at her home in Paris. The cause was not immediately known.

Birkin was born in London, but became more associated with France, the country in which she found both fame and love. She moved there as a young actress, starring in films like Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 Blow-Up. Two years later, she began a decades-long romantic and creative partnership with the artist Serge Gainsbourg (with whom they share a daughter, the actress-singer Charlotte Gainsbourg). Together, they made music like their 1969 hit song “Je t’aime… moi non plus” (“I Love You… Me Neither”), which elevated Birkin’s status to global star—and also caused an international controversy due to the sexually explicit moans Birkin provided for the track. The song which became an example of the 1960s sexual revolution was condemned by the Vatican.

Birkin and Gainsbourg at the Cannes Film Festival in 1974

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Birkin was adored for her personal style, epitomizing effortless, bohemian ease. In America, she’s perhaps best known for lending her name to the Birkin bag, which has transformed from luxury carryall into a true status symbol. The story goes that Birkin was seated next to Hermès chairman Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight to London in the early 1980s when the contents of her signature straw bag spilled open on the floor. The mother of three shared with Dumas the challenge of finding a chic tote that could hold everything she needed—and thus, the Birkin (the current price of which can be well into six figures) was born. The bag was, as Birkin requested, four times the size of a Kelly, the handbag created and named for movie star Grace Kelly.

In 2021 Birkin admitted to the Wall Street Journal that while she admired the bag, she didn’t actually use one, saying, “I carry too much stuff and it’s too heavy. I stuff coat pockets instead.”

After her breakup from Gainsbourg in 1981, Birkin continued to act and make music on her own, collaborating with filmmakers Agnès Varda and Patrice Chéreau. In 1983, she released the album Baby Alone in Babylone that included music and lyrics by Gainsbourg. He died in 1991 at age 62, having helped usher in the contemporary era of French pop.

Birkin was also known for her activism in France, supporting LGBTQ rights and advocating for women experiencing domestic violence. She continues to inspire new generations, appearing on social media mood boards with her bangs and slouchy jeans, ever the style muse. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, wrote on Twitter, “The most Parisian of the English has left us. We will never forget her songs, her laughs and her incomparable accent which have always accompanied us.”

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