Celebrities dying is nothing new, but word of Jane Birkin’s passing feels personal. Not because she was an icon or a diva but because she wasn’t.
Despite her obvious physical beauty and talent she always came across to me as down to earth and real. I remember ‘meeting’ her with That’s Not My Age at a Miller Harris event (Lyn Harris had created a bespoke fragrance for her and they had remained friends). Well, Alyson actually spoke to her while I hovered awkwardly. She was as unaffected and chicly dishevelled as you would hope. I always liked how despite her much-lauded beauty, she had the same hang ups as us all. Her interviews would frequently reveal her vulnerabilities around her looks, such as her description in 2021 of buying oversized men’s garms in which to look ‘fragile’ – the 60s waif body ideal clearly still omnipresent in her psyche.
Yet, as far as I know, she resisted the lure of tweakments and plastic surgery succumbed to by most other high-profile women of her era in their bid to future-proof their careers. She was famously non-princessy. Regularly asked about beauty hacks and product recs, her go-tos were a relatable high-low mix of French pharmacy staples (Embryolisse! Dr. Hauschka!) and bougie duty free splurges (Sisley!).
Jane Birkin epitomised the ‘garconne’ style and philosophy I identified in my 2016 book, The New Garconne: How to Be a Modern Gentlewoman. I would have happily used her on the cover to exemplify not just the dualities of masculine-feminine dressing, but her personal values – she was proudly woke long before that was even a word. Despite being partly famous for inspiring the Hermès Birkin bag, she was known for selling her Birkins to raise money for deserving causes and eventually swapped bags for pockets!
A final word from la Birkin on ageing – despite her ups and downs she was emphatic that life is for living…
“I think at 40 years old, I was at my best, really. Not for me at 20 or 25. Forty is, I think, a great, great age for a girl, 40 and even 50. It’s a lovely age because girls are as fragile as when they’re 15, and they don’t know what’s coming up. They know what they’re losing, but they don’t know what they’re going to get; 40 and 50 is a bit like that. You turn into something else a little bit, and it’s rather exciting. You do rash things. You do rash things because it’s your last chance in lots of ways, so I find that girls of 40 are interesting characters to write for, and 50 too.”
WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGE: Jane Birkin / photographer unknown
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