A talented artist, Jane Birkin has enjoyed a long career in the arts as a singer, songwriter, actress, and director. However, it is her reputation as a style icon, and more specifically being the namesake of the iconic Hermès Birkin bag for which she is best known. In this Baghunter Insights blog, we look into the woman who inspired the creation of the world’s most valuable handbag.
Birkin before Hermès
Jane Birkin's mother, Judy Cambell was a stage actress in England during the 1940s
Born in 1946, Jane Birkin is the daughter of English actress, Judy Campbell, and Royal Navy lieutenant-commander and spy, David Birkin. Raised in London, Birkin quickly became part of the swinging London scene in the 1960s and appeared briefly in a handful of films. However, it was in 1969, when she landed the lead female role in the French film Slogan, which her career truly kick-started. Starring alongside Serge Gainsbourg, Birkin performed with him on the movie’s theme song, and later that year they released the duet “Je t’aime…moi non plus”, solidifying her status as the British-born emblem of French chic.
Jane Birkin met Serge Gainsbourg on the set of French film, Slogan, in 1969
Birkin and Gainsbourg began a passionate 13-year relationship on the set of Slogan which led to numerous collaborations between the pair throughout the 1970s. One of the most controversial was Gainsbourg’s first film “Je t’aime…moi non plus” for which Birkin received a nominated for the Best Actress Cèsar Award. Due to her stunning beauty and sex appeal, Birkin became a famous fashion icon. In particular, she became known for her Haute-Hippie style and free spirit, evident in her musical and acting performances. She was mainly known for her use of a straw basket which she used instead of a regular handbag. However, in 1981 a chance encounter would result in the straw baskets replacement by the world’s most desired leather bag.
An Encounter in Folklore
In 1981, Birkin was on a short flight from Paris to London. Carrying her famous straw basket, she placed it in the overhead compartment of her seat. However, the lid of the basket opened, and the contents spilled all over the floor and on the seats around her. Sitting next to her and assisting her in retrieving the contents of her basket was the late executive of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas. Birkin complained to Dumas that she was unable to find a suitable leather weekend bag that she liked. According to folklore, the remainder of the flight consisted of the pair designing a bag together and sketching ideas on an air sickness bag.
A chance encounter between Jane Birkin and Jean-Louis Dumas on a Paris to London flight led to the creation of the Hermès Birkin bag
Fast forward three years and a prototype handbag was developed and presented to Jane Birkin – the Hermès Birkin bag. The bag, crafted from supple leather and handmade in France by a single, highly trained artisan, and takes up to 24 hours to complete. Designed specifically to provide ample room for jet-setting women, the bag quickly became a fashion icon and status symbol for women worldwide. The Birkin bag comes in a range of sizes, leathers, exotic skins, and hardware, with new colors introduced each season and limited edition versions of the bag crafted occasionally.
Jane Birkin and Hermès
Since the creation of the very first Birkin bag, Jane Birkin has always carried one. However, true to her unique style and fashion, she has continually customized her bags with beads, trinkets, protest stickers, and other titbits to create a unique look. Birkin even defaced her namesake’s bag on Japanese TV in 2008. The fashion icon repeatedly stamped on a tan-colored Birkin bag to make it look “unique.” The customization of the Birkin bag caught on quickly and “defacing” Birkin bags is now a modern and trendy pastime practiced by celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Tamara Ecclestone, and many others.
Jane Birkin is now known for her philanthropy work, including Amnesty International and royalty donations from the use of her name on Birkin bags
Currently on her fifth bag after auctioning the first four for charity, Birkin’s philanthropy work is well documented. She often works with Amnesty International on humanitarian issues and donates her yearly royalties for the Birkin bag (approximately $50,000 per year) to a charity of her choice. In 2015, she had a brief disagreement with Hermès regarding the farming methods of alligators and crocodiles used to make the bags. Birkin’s request to remove her name from crocodile bags was swiftly met with a series of measures taken by the luxury manufacturer which satisfied Birkin and resulted in her dropping the request to remove her name from the bags.