Jane Birkin, Singer, Actress and Fashion Inspiration, Dies at 76

Jane Birkin, the British-French singer and actress whose collaboration with the artist Serge Gainsbourg made her a defining figure of the 1970s and whose personal style inspired a luxury handbag, died on Sunday in Paris. She was 76.

Her death was confirmed by President Emmanuel Macron of France, who called her “a French icon” in a message posted on Twitter. The French news media reported that Ms. Birkin had been found dead at her home but that the cause was not immediately known.

It was Ms. Birkin’s personal and artistic relationship with Mr. Gainsbourg that made her famous overseas, especially following their 1969 hit song “Je t’aime… moi non plus” (“I Love You… Me Neither”). In America, Ms. Birkin was mostly known for lending her name to the famous Hermès handbags, status symbols with a distinct strap fastener and signature latch.

Jane Mallory Birkin was born in London on Dec. 14, 1946, to the actress Judy Campbell and Cmdr. David Birkin of the Royal Navy. But it was her years in France that made her famous and established her as an embodiment of Parisian chic.

Among her first acting roles was The Blonde in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film “Blow-Up.” It was two years later, on a film set, that Ms. Birkin met Mr. Gainsbourg, beginning a love affair that would last 12 years and captivate France.

Their erotic duet “Je t’aime… moi non plus,” whose lyrics are punctuated by breathy moans from Ms. Birkin, was seen as exemplifying the sexual revolution of the 1960s. It was condemned by the Vatican.

Following the breakup of the Gainsbourg relationship in 1981, Ms. Birkin continued singing and acting, including in films by Agnès Varda and Patrice Chéreau. In 1983, she released the album “Baby Alone in Babylone,” which included music and lyrics by Mr. Gainsbourg.

Mr. Gainsbourg, a director and composer whose music helped pioneer contemporary French pop music, died at 62 in 1991.

“He wrote for me from 1968 until the day he died,” Ms. Birkin said in an interview with The New York Times in 2018. “Why he went on asking me to interpret the songs that I had inspired I don’t know — but perhaps he knew that I’d be faithful at least to that.”

Ms. Birkin’s gamin looks and carefree bohemian manner transfixed generations of the style-conscious and inspired the expensive and highly coveted Birkin bag from Hermès.

“I would love to have been a sort of neat person and wear a Kelly,’’ she said in a 2018 YouTube interview, referring to the ladylike handbag created and named for the film star Grace Kelly. “But I never thought you could get enough in it.’’

The collaboration with Hermès, the French luxury house, started after its chief executive, Jean-Louis Dumas, saw Ms. Birkin struggling with a straw basket on a flight to London, its contents overflowing onto the floor. Ms. Birkin said she had not been able to find a leather bag she liked. Hermès devised the Birkin, which was, as she requested, “four times the size of a Kelly.’’

Ms. Birkin was additionally popular in France as an activist for women’s and L.G.B.T.Q. rights and also for her British accent when speaking French, which the French found endearing.

“The most Parisian of the English has left us,” the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, wrote in a message on Twitter. “We will never forget her songs, her laughs and her incomparable accent which have always accompanied us.”

Ms. Birkin suffered a mild stroke in 2021 and had recently canceled a series of concerts because of health issues.

She is survived by two daughters she had with Mr. Gainsbourg and the French film director Jacques Doillon: the singer-actresses Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon, each of whom has, like their mother, inspired designers and followers of fashion. Another daughter, Kate Barry, a photographer, whom she had with the film composer John Barry, died at 46 in 2013 in a fall from the window of her fourth-floor Paris apartment.

Guy Trebay contributed reporting from New York.

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