As a model, actress and singer, Birkin’s life throughout the 60’s and 70’s was well and truly public. Jane’s highly publicised relationship with Parisian Musician Serge Gainsbourg exacerbated her spot in the limelight. The couple’s affection for one another culminated in 1969’s controversial album ‘Jane Birkin et Serge Gainsbourg’. However, it was not only her relationship with Gainsbourg that was well documented. Many photographs and films featuring Birkin chronicle her fashion sense throughout this era. As iconic as the couple were, Birkin’s effortless sense of style is arguably more renowned. Embodying (or perhaps inventing?) the Parisian Chic look, Jane Birkin has become a fashion icon of the ages. Photographs of her outfits throughout the 70’s look as if they are documenting the street style of today’s Paris. The significant impact on fashion of one woman’s effortless outfits demonstrates that Birkin’s legacy is far more than that of her eponym, the Hermes’ Birkin bag. In this article, I’m going to run through the key staples that made up Birkin’s timeless wardrobe.
Before Hermes introduced the Birkin bag, named after Jane herself and selling for up to almost $380,000 at auction, there was a very different style of bag associated with the Birkin name. Jane would rarely be seen out and about in the 60’s without her trusty wicker basket. This simple bag brought the character of the French countryside to a cosmopolitan landscape, embodying Jane’s effortless and care-free sense of style. From airports to film premieres, the basket went everywhere with her, yet never looked out of place. Moreover, the legendary Hermes Birkin bag can attribute its existence to its predecessor. The story goes that Jane was on a flight from Paris to London in 1983, when the contents of her basket bag fell to the floor from the overhead compartment. Jean-Louis Demas, Chief Executive at Hermes, saw this struggle, and recognised a need for a more practical women’s handbag. Together, Birkin and Dumas doodled up a bag that would become her namesake, and possibly the most famous handbag in fashion history.
Donning denim shorts and denim jeans regularly, Jane may as well have had a time machine straight to the 2010’s. Straight leg or flared jeans paired with a simple white shirt or striped top gave Jane a timeless look that is still popular among fashion minimalists today. Still looking straight out of the late 60’s, but avoiding era specific pieces such as bold and patterned florals, Birkin’s simple outfits have aged well. Seen frequently among fast fashion retailers in 2020, patchwork denim jeans were also a favourite with Jane, showing she had an eye for classic wardrobe staples. During warm, French summers, Birkin would often opt for mini denim shorts with flip flops, or with black sheer tights during the colder months. The versatility with which Birkin wore a few staple pieces is to be admired, and perhaps to be learnt from in this age of mass consumption and fast fashion.
Jane Birkin’s fringe undoubtedly encapsulates the Parisian Chic look. It is a core staple of her overall image, and has inspired fringes for decades since. Sometimes known as the ‘Birkin Bang’, it is not a full fringe, but is long and wispy enough to fall naturally. Notable Birkin-esque fringes include Alexa Chung’s, whose personal style from her hair to her shoes is directly influenced by Jane. Birkin styled her fringe with simple, minimal makeup, emphasising the simplicity, yet effectiveness of her image. Women have endlessly recreated this effortless French look, despite Jane herself being originally from London. Defining a hairstyle of a whole different nationality, even 50 years into the future, demonstrates her significance as a long term fashion icon.
One style that defined the 1960’s was mini dresses, and Birkin was no exception to this trend. Jane casually encapsulated the swinging sixties without looking over the top, often wearing A-line or peasant style dresses. Such dresses were often one colour, or a small print pattern. With these simple dresses, ballet flats and her signature basket bag, Jane proved that in a decade of psychedelic patterns and bold colours, sometimes less is more. Moving into the 1970’s, her dresses became more bohemian, with crochet and fringe making a statement. Sometimes paired with knee high boots that wouldn’t go amiss on today’s high street, Jane curated a classic 70’s, yet enduring look. Today, you could easily pick up any of the dresses Jane wore from a variety of stores, and not look out of place.
Overall, the key to Jane Birkin’s timeless style is simplicity. By opting for a few, core staples, Birkin managed to make a mark on fashion that has lasted decades. Paired with a whirlwind romance with Gainsbourg and a blossoming musical and acting career, Birkin’s style encapsulated the effortlessly timeless side of the sixties and seventies.