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Gainsbourg and Birkin

April 26, 2015

The year is 1968, and most of Europe keeps a close eye on the student demonstrations in Paris. Not so Serge Gainsburg.Freshly separated from Brigitte Bardot, he prepares to star in Pierre Grimblat’s film Slogan. The film also casts a young English unknown, Jane Birkin. They dislike each other immediately. He thinks she is a skinny airhead, and she calls him arrogant and snobbish. To save his film from impending disaster, the director Grimblat books them a dinner at Maxim’s, after which they go dancing. According to the romance lore, this is when Gainsbourg and Birkin fall madly in love.

Coupledom Cool Gainsbourg and Birkin :Vintage For Two Part IV

Gainsbourg and Birkin spent summer of ’68 in St Tropez while Jane filmed Le Piscine with Alain Delon; autumn in Nepal, where Jane played a hippie in Les Chemins de Kathmandou; winter in England, having a traditional family Christmas. By this time they had already recorded a demo for the song that will make them notorious: Je t’aime… moi non plus. By April, the song charts across of Europe. By August, it’s banned by the Vatican and BBC. The charts go wild. The terrible couple became infamous.


Their affair was called passionate, unique and captivating. It was a blend of provocation and romance, unrestrained debauchery and playfulness. By the time their daughter Charlotte was born, the couple have already became bohemian legends.


And Gainsbourg and Birkin still are. The photographs from their affair are still captivating. Gainsbourg’s Pygmalion stance should be repulsive, but it’s not.


Incredibly ugly, he appears at turns flamboyant and shy, sardonic and romantic, with fluid wit and jouissance defusing the heavy Russian melancholy underneath.


Utterly different to anyone else, Gainsbourg offers the perfect foil to Birkin’s shimmering, irreverent prettiness. Next to him, she appears even more silkily sexy. Next to her, he rattles like a mad, virile satyr. They look like they’re having fun, and they are. Their music, sensuality and public life blend together in soft focus kitsch perfection.


They travel to Yugoslavia and film in Ilok, by the Danube; they travel to Dubrovnik and make it to the cover of Paris Match. Serge writes music. They actually consistently produce a serious body of work, but somehow the lascivious song they recorded early on outlives everything else.


By the end of the 70s, their marriage is over, like so many destroyed by alcohol. But unlike many others, they remain friends. Gainsbourg is the godfather of Jane’s daughter Lou Doillon and writes her a farewell album, Baby Alone in Babylone, in 1984.


One can’t help but admire Gainsbourg and Birkin’s maturity, friendship, kinship and bohemian flair. And, apart from the matching silver suits, one can’t help but want everything that they wore.


Jane’s basket – the forerunner of the Hermes’ Birkin bag, because she could never find a leather bag big enough, her long spindly legs, hair styled by the wind and the sea, the super-short minis that Alexa Chung would kill for; the apparent sobriety of Serge’s slim tailored suits, duffel coats and pimp smoking jackets; the penchant they both had for jeans and open-chested white shirts. The penchant they had for Paris. The fact that they looked like they just got out of bed. And they probably have.


One looks at today’s couples that ought to inherit the baton of rugged sexiness and style and doesn’t quite find anyone that fits the bill. The retro-style magpies, such as Russell Brand and Jemima Khan, are too professional, politically correct (or correctly incorrect), closely herded by PRs and managers and – in Brand’s case – so intent on being enfant terrible that they appear like cartoon characters.


Next to them, the unconventional Serge and Jane appear like people who have effortlessly mastered the timeless coupledom cool.




Serge, Jane, and a young Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Serge and Jane together.

Gainsbourg and Birkin-Performing together.

Jane and Serge.

Gainsbourg and Birkin-Matching in silver.

Jane in a darling little dress.

Serge is dapper and Jane nonchalant in the city.

Very very matchy matchy.

Super matchy-matchy.