Posts Tagged ‘Birkin bag’

Books | Je t’aime ma famille

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Jane & Serge. A Family Album
Andrew Birkin and Alison Castle
Published by Taschen
176 pp, Hardcover book set with poster,
stickers, and various other items

His and British actress Jane Birkin’s passionate love affair had already been over for a decade, when French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg died 20 years ago. If not for the notoriety of their timeless and seemingly explicit recording of his song, Je t’aime… moi non plus, which reached number one in the UK charts in 1969 – as I write it has had 6,721,880 plays on You-tube – the couple might well have faded into relative obscurity, at least here.

Married in the mid-60s to the respected English film music composer John Barry, gamine Birkin had a bit-part role in Blow-up (1966), but the majority of her moderately successful acting and recording career has been spent in France. In 1984, after meeting her on a plane, Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas, created the supple leather Birkin bag, in her honour, which quickly became an iconic, international fashion accessory. In 2002, Birkin picked up an OBE. She still acts and is involved in humanitarian projects with Amnesty International.

His diverse output ranging across genres from jazz, chanson, pop and yé-yé, to reggae, funk, rock, electronic and disco, Gainsbourg, is still regarded as one of the most important figures in French popular music, but he was also a poet, composer, artist, actor and director.

Written as an imaginary dialogue between two lovers during a sexual encounter, Je t’aime’s lyrics are neither vulgar nor obscene, but the breathlessness of the couple and their barely suppressed moans, remain sensationally suggestive. Sung in French – inscrutable to the majority of British people in 1969 (and perhaps still to most in 2013) – it was even more tantalising. The Pope declared the record obscene, while the media speculated it contained a live recording of sex, to which Gainsbourg told Birkin, ‘Thank goodness it wasn’t, otherwise I hope it would have been an LP.’

From the earliest days of their romance until their split in 1980, Jane’s brother Andrew Birkin was a frequent presence in the couple’s life. A keen photographer, he snapped thousands of candid family photos throughout those years. After early work as a runner and later location scout with Stanley Kubrick, by 1967 Andrew Birkin was first assistant director to The Beatles on Magical Mystery Tour. The following year, Jane’s marriage would break up and she met Gainsbourg, whom she introduced to her brother. Andrew claims to have recognised their love at first sight. He went on to become both a writer and film director, winning the Royal Television Society’s award for The Lost Boys (1978), and in 1980 a BAFTA. In 1993, he received a Silver Bear for best director at the Berlin Film Festival for The Cement Garden in which his niece, Jane and Serge’s daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg – now an internationally successful actress, singer and songwriter – played a supporting role. Birkin’s pictures, few of which have ever been published, are a rare glimpse of Jane, Serge and Charlotte’s sometimes humdrum and ordinary, always intimate, family life.

Designed by M/M Paris, Taschen’s Jane & Serge. A Family Album, isn’t only a book, but, with it’s poster (shown top, in two halves), sticker sheet, contact sheet booklet, colour prints, and embroidered patch, all contained in a clear plastic cover, it’s a collection of mementoes with undisputed provenance, however, it remains to be seen whether the British will understand the French concept.

All photographs © Andrew Birkin


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