How Jane Birkin Seduced a Nation

OK, so Jane Birkin may be English by birth but she has integrated herself so totally into the hearts of the French that she belongs there.

Jane Birkin, model, singer and girlfriend of French crooner Serge Gainsbourg, seduced the French nation from the moment she set foot on their shores in 1963 and even managed to get a Hermès bag named after her.

She exploded onto the world's consciousness in 1969 singing in a duet with Serge Gainsbourg entitled "Je t' non plus" (I love neither).

Je t'aime was denounced by the Vatican and banned by the BBC as well as radio stations in Italy and Spain, so naturally it reached No 1 in the UK charts. From that moment on the world was captivated by the leggy Birkin and her love affair with the man that all French women wanted.

Jane Birkin was born in London in 1943 the daughter of actress and a captain of the Royal Navy. She first got married at the age of 17 to John Barry, film composer famous for coming up with the James Bond theme music, and had a daughter, Kate, soon after.

However the couple were divorced by the time Birkin was 20 and she was already attracting the attention of someone else.

In 1966 Jane had appeared briefly in Antonioni's scandalous film "Blow Up" and so in 1968 decided to try and further her film career so went for an audition for the French film "Slogan".

Off to Paris

Despite not speaking any French, Birkin landed the role which was to be played opposite Serge Gainsbourg, the then teenage pop icon.

Gainsbourg was reportedly gruff and uninterested when presented with his new English co-star (he had just broken up with Brigitte Bardot) but that attitude soon changed. The couple quickly became inseparable, a legend on the Parisian nightlife scene where the libertarian wind of the 1960s was finally blowing.

Jane Birkin quickly became a style icon as the public became enchanted by this leggy free-spirited girl with the tom-boy style.

Her penchant for going bra-less and wearing skirts so short they scarcely covered her rear end further enhanced her image as a bohemian product of her time. Instead of the normal ultra-feminine nipped-in a the waist dresses and skirts her uniform became denim paired with a simple t-shirt or bottom-skimming dresses that show-cased her never-ending legs.

Her style was copied by girls all over the world and so her reign as a style icon had begun.

A Style Icon

It was 1969 when the scandalous sex-record "Je t' non plus" was released. Serge Gainsbourg had originally written it for his former lover, Brigitte Bardot, but this didn't seem to phase Birkin.

The song became infamous partly a result of its salacious lyrics and partly because of the background of increasing sexual moans and groans coming from Birkin.

The song culminates in her simulated orgasm - something the public seemed to thoroughly enjoy.

The heretical single appeared on an album that was full of erotic tracks and censorship went wild. The record sold a million copies in a matter of months and the couple were catapulted into the headlines of all major magazines.

They spent the next few years enjoying the media attention and having fun but when their daughter Charlotte was born in 1971, Jane took two years off.

The next time Birkin hit the big screen was in 1973 when she played Brigitte Bardot's lover in Don Juan (Or If Don Juan Were a Woman) - apparently it wasn't as awkward as it could have been.

Je ne t'aime plus, mon amant

Next the tumultuous couple were back in 1975 with the film version of the song that showered them with success. The film, which explored a homosexual theme, outraged puritan France and was panned by the critics so Jane Birkin returned to the recording studio.

The album "Lolita go home" was released in 1975 followed by "Ex-fan des sixties" in 1978 by which time the public were under the spell of Birkin's half-whispered vocals.

But it seems the reign of the media's favorite couple was over as Jane left Serge in 1980 to shack up with film director Jacques Doillon.

They had a daughter together in 1982 and Jane starred in some of Doillon's hit movies which only further increased her profile. It seems that Serge was pining for his lost English rose however as the tortured lyrics of "Baby alone in Babylone" are apparently about her.

The Greatest Compliment of All

The 80s passed in a whirl of success and Jane Birkin approached her fortieth birthday wanting for nothing.

In 1984 perhaps the most exciting thing of all happened - Hermès designed a handbag for her. On an Air France flight from Paris to London Jane pulled her Hermès date book out of her bag and all her papers fell on the floor. Annoyed, she remarked to the man next to her it should have more pockets and that man just happened to be the chairman of Hermès.

Shortly after the Birkin bag was born. It has since become one of Hermès' most popular and expensive handbags.

Jane the do-gooder

In 1990 Serge Gainsbourg dedicated yet another album to her "Amours des Feintes" but sadly it was to be his last.

After a lifetime spent saturated by booze and cigarettes, Serge Gainsbourg, writer, composer, director, actor, French cultural hero and sex symbol, eventually died on 2nd March 1991 . He was only 62 years old.

The whole of France was devastated (President Mitterand even when so far as to call him this centuries Baudelaire) but Birkin soldiered on and finished her tour.

Soon after Jane Birkin decided to hang up the mike and turned her attention to humanitarian work and her family. She has worked with Amnesty International on immigrant welfare and AIDs issues as well as spending a lot of time in Africa working with children. She continues to work and record songs to this day.