PARIS (AP) — Actress and singer Jane Birkin, who made France her home and charmed the country with her English grace, effortless style and social activism, has died at 76.
The London-born star and fashion icon was known for her musical and romantic relationship with French singer Serge Gainsbourg. Their songs included the scorching “Je t’aime moi non plus” (“I Love You, Me Ni”). Birkin’s ethereal British-accented singing voice intertwined with her gruff baritone in the 1969 duet that helped make her famous and was banned in Italy after being denounced in the Vatican newspaper.
The style that Birkin flaunted in the 1960s and early 1970s – long hair with bangs, jeans paired with white tops, knit mini-dresses and basket bags – still epitomizes the pinnacle of French chic for many women. worldwide.
Birkin was also synonymous with a Hermès bag that bore his name. Created by the Parisian fashion house in 1984 in her honour, the Birkin bag has become one of the most exclusive luxury items in the world, with a stratospheric price and a waiting list of years to buy it.
In her adopted France, Birkin was also celebrated for her political activism and campaigning for Amnesty International, Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement, the fight against AIDS and other causes.
“You can always do something,” Birkin said in 2001, rallying support for an Amnesty campaign against torture. “You can say, ‘I don’t agree with that. “”
She joined five monks on a march through the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 to demand that Myanmar let foreign aid workers into the country to help cyclone victims.
In 2022, she joined other screen and music stars in France to cut strands of their hair in support of protesters in Iran. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Birkin’s daughter with Gainsbourg and also an actress in her own right, cut off a chunk of her mother’s hair for the “HairForFreedom” campaign as Iran was engulfed in anti-government protests.
French President Emmanuel Macron hailed Birkin as a “complete artist”, noting that her soft voice went hand in hand with her “fiery” activism.
“Jane Birkin was a French icon because she embodied freedom, sang the most beautiful words of our language,” he tweeted.
French media reported that Birkin was found dead at her Paris home. France’s culture ministry tweeted that Birkin died on Sunday. He hailed her as a “timeless Francophone icon”.
Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak called Birkin “the most French-speaking British person” and “the emblem of an entire era that has never gone out of style”.
Outside Birkin’s home on the left bank of Paris, fans mourned his death.
“She was a poet, a singer, an artist,” said Marie-Jo Bonnet. “She gave her best and it’s wonderful.”
Birkin’s early credits included “Blow-Up” in 1966, credited with helping to introduce French audiences to her “Swinging Sixties” style and beauty.
Birkin and Gainsbourg met two years later. She remained his muse even after the couple separated in 1980.
She also had a daughter, Kate, with James Bond composer John Barry. Kate Barry died in 2013 at the age of 46. Birkin had her third daughter, singer and model Lou Doillon, with French director Jacques Doillon.
Birkin has suffered from health issues in recent years which have prevented her from performing and her public appearances have become rare.
French broadcaster BFMTV said Birkin suffered a mild stroke in 2021, forcing her to cancel shows that year. She canceled her shows again in March due to a broken shoulder blade.
A return to performing was postponed in May, with the singer saying she needed a little more time and promising her fans she would see them again in the fall.
Despite her decades-long career on screen and in music, Birkin suspected that, for some people, the bag that bears her name might be her most famous heirloom.
The fashion accessory was born from a chance meeting on a flight to London in the 1980s with the boss of Hermès at the time, Jean-Louis Dumas. Birkin recounted in later interviews that they spoke after spilling some of his belongings on the cabin floor. She asked Dumas why Hermès hadn’t made a bigger handbag and drew on an airplane vomit bag the kind of bag she would like.
Dumas then had a copy made for her and, flattered, she said yes when Hermès asked her if he could market the bag in her name.
In a 2018 CBS Sunday Morning interview, Birkin joked that this is perhaps what she’s best known for.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god, on my obituary it will say ‘Like the bag’ or something,” she said. “Well, it could be worse.”
AP reporters Mallika Sen in New York and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.