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A Jane By Any Other Name

Jane Birkin

British born icon Jane Birkin became a poster girl for French chic in the 60s when she moved there to star in a 1969 film alongside Serge Gainsbourg called Slogan. The pair began a 13-year love affair and even recorded Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus – a saucy duet originally intended to be sung with Bridget Bardot.


She’s had a Hermes bag named after her in the 80s, and just released an album of Gainsbourg songs as a tribute to the man who wrote about her long after they split and until his death at the age of 62 in 1991.


Even at 70, Birkin sees no reason to stop – she prefers to keep busy doing stage shows and singing. She recently returned from the Hong Kong Arts Festival singing Serge Gainsbourg songs with an orchestra.


Now she’s the new face of an Australian project called My Name Is Jane where various Janes (some famous) are photographed in black and white images to reveal the many colours of being anything but plain. The exhibition opens later this year.


Why become involved in the project My Name Is Jane?

The question is why not? I loved the idea. I thought I had to take part. I’ve always been intrigued by creative projects and there’s many amazing Janes out there, let’s show the world who we all are. It seemed interesting to me and I didn’t know the other Janes involved. I love supporting good ideas. Maybe they might try and get Jane Fonda. Wouldn’t it be fun if they did.


How long did the shoot take?

It was a few hours in Paris. It was very straightforward. I was photographed and interviewed. It was great fun.


Your mother was an actress and loved theatre. What memories stand out most about her?

It was my mother [Judy Campbell] who helped me learn all of the text for my first auditions. I was 17 and went to audition for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but I ended up in the wrong theatre. I found myself auditioning for a part as a deaf-mute girl in Graham Greene’s play Carving a Statue. I forgot the words, but the man with blue eyes told me: “It doesn’t matter – she’s perfect.” It was Graham Greene. That was the beginning for me. I did theatre and singing ever since after that. My mother used to have me come on film sets and see it all unfold – I was entranced by it all thanks to her. She was stunning and moved in exclusive theatre circles – that can be intimidating for someone you’re dating or about to marry.


How did the Birkin handbag come about?

The Birkin bag came about when I was on a plane sitting next to Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight from Paris to London [in 1981]. I was travelling with a bag that wasn’t ideal because everything fell from it. He ended up suggesting they design a bag for me. I thought it was such a good idea and said it was okay if they used my name. I had nothing to do with the design apart from the fact that my name is on it. So yes, a guy sits next to a girl on a plane and the rest is fashion history.


What’s your take on the Swinging Sixties? Were they as fun as they appeared?

London in the late 60s and 70s was a city where everything was happening. It was all about the social revolution and it revolved around fashion and music. There were singers and musicians everywhere. It was a time for models, artists and designers. Everyone had access – people like Michael Cain, John Barry or Terry Stamp and even beautiful girls like Jean Shrimpton. It was fun to be with all these actors and musicians. The Beatles and Rolling Stones. I mean it was a wild time but I think society is more fascinated by what it was than those of us who were in the thick of it at the time.


You recently performed at the Hong Kong Arts Festival in March – is there a chance you’ll come to Australia?

This is the first time I have been out since my daughter Kate died. It’s been a very dark period for me but music and stage is where I feel most comfortable and energised. The show in Hong Kong featured 21 of Gainsbourg’s songs [arranged for voice and orchestra by pianist Nobuyuki Nakajima]. It also ties in with an album I recorded in Warsaw with the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra to make the Birkin Gainsbourg Le Symphonique album. I’m all about keeping his spirit alive. He’s a cultural icon in France. I plan to travel for a year and a half and if Australia will have me, I’ll be there.


Best advice for getting older

Don’t think about it. Just be who you are.


Jane Birkin is part of My Name Is Jane, an ongoing photographic study featuring women named Jane from Melbourne, London and Paris. She has also just released a new album, Birkin Gainsbourg: Le Symphonique.

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