Jane Birkin, the inspiration for the iconic Hermès Birkin bag — which is now shorthand for “wealth” — didn’t care much for flash or status.
In fact, Birkin, who died Sunday at 76, was a woman of grand contradictions.
The actress, singer and style icon was English but came to define the very essence of the effortless “French girl” aesthetic.
And her namesake bag, which is arguably the most identifiable luxury accessory on Earth? She originally imagined it on the most lowbrow sketch pad possible: an airplane sick bag.
But it was those clashes of sensibilities that made Birkin so singular and influential.
“[Birkin’s look] was a new vibe at the time, a real contradiction. And fashion loves a contradiction,” Zanna Roberts Rassi, E! NBC Style Correspondent, told The Post.
“Her combo of classic French codes with the ‘I don’t really care’ attitude of the Brits,” Rassi added. “Polished but rumpled. Sexy micro mini with gamine flats. Masculine jeans with a femme cropped shirt. The unexpected contradiction was the allure.”
Birkin’s secret weapon? “She oozed confidence.”
As for le bag: It was conceived on a 1983 Air France flight to London, after the contents of Birkin’s bag — including her diary — spilled all over the floor.
As she told Christiane Amanpour in a 2020 CNN interview, the man sitting next to her said she needed a diary with pockets inside.
“I said, ‘It’s an Hermés diary,’” she recalled.
He responded, “But I am Hermés.”
Her travel partner was Jean-Louis Dumas, then the creative director of the storied French brand.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you make a bag that is sort of four times the Kelly [ a handbag named for Grace Kelly] and sort of half the size of my suitcase.’
Dumas asked Birkin to sketch out what she had in mind.
“I drew it on one of those sick bags, a vomit bag in the airplane,” she told Amanpour, noting that Dumas gave her the finished bag as a gift but with a request: He wanted to sell the style with her name and blessing.
IMG Models founder Ivan Bart called Birkin the “ultimate ‘model off-duty’ in her youth,” adding that “her innate sense of unpretentious chic” is still the blueprint for today’s cat-workers off-camera: Think loose trousers or perfectly fit jeans with a simple white T-shirt or button-up — sans bra.
Jenna Lyons — the CEO of natural lash brand Loveseen and newest member of “Real Housewives of New York” — calls herself a “Birkin stan.” She told The Post about visiting Paris in the early ’90s and spotting Birkin sitting three seats away at Cafe Marly.
“This was before iPhones because I would have snapped a million photos,” Lyons, formerly the executive creative director of J. Crew, said. “I remember sitting there thinking I wish someone could see this moment.”
Lyons points to Birkin’s beauty, which was different from the American ideal of polish and perfection.
“There’s a nonchalance she possessed. She was captivating in that way,” Lyons said. “There’s this lack of trying that I find incredibly sexy and unique.”
The daughter of an English Naval officer and an actress, Birkin starred in the now-classic 1966 movie “Blow Up” a year after marrying James Bond composer John Barry, with whom she had one child, Kate Barry. The marriage ended — but Birkin was just revving up.
Despite not speaking the language, Birkin was cast in the 1969 French movie “Slogan” alongside legendarily louche crooner Serge Gainsbourg. The two became an item and duetted on “Je T’aime … Moi Non Plus ” (“I Love You … Me Neither”), which was written for Gainsbourg’s ex, Brigitte Bardot. The highly erotic song was a hit, but its controversial lyrics — about what happens “between my loins” — was so controversial that the Vatican banned it.
The two, who never married, shared daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg (herself an actress and singer), and Birkin later had her model daughter Lou Doillon with film director Jacques Doillon.
Though first created as a form of understated luxury, the Birkin bag would go on to cost upwards of $10,000 (well over $1 million for a custom version) and become the must-have status symbol for everyone from Kate Moss to various Kardashians and Jenners, the Olsen twins to J. Lo, Cardi B. to Catherine Deneuve, not to mention Floyd Mayweather — who, in 2017, spent a reported $230K on four bags.
But being the iconoclast she was, Birkin reportedly didn’t understand why people collected them, reportedly telling Styleite: “What’s the use of having a second one? You only need one and that busts your arm … ”
She didn’t even particularly like toting carrying her namesake. “I carry too much stuff and it’s too heavy,” she told the Wall Street Journal.
“The bag that she created and gave this iconic awareness to has been appropriated by people who use it in a totally different way,” said Lyons.
Indeed, Birkin became the Michael Jordan of the fashion world. A younger generation overwhelmingly associates the basketball legend with his titular sneaker, instead of his gravity-defying dunks and numerous NBA championships.
In the same way, Birkin has been, by many, reduced to her name on a fancy leather bag despite her being an arbiter of cool and an influential figure in music and movies.
None of this was lost on Birkin, who long joked that the bag’s legacy would dwarf her.
She once remembered coming to New York and someone saying of her name, “‘Oh, Birkin like the bag.’
“Bless me when I’m dead,” she said, adding: “They’ll possibly even only talk about the bag.”
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