February 12, 2010

Jane Birkin at the French Institute

Last night, the iconic Jane Birkin played to a sold-out house at Florence Gould Hall in New York's French Institute : Alliance Française. I was thrilled to be in the audience and amazed that even now, at the age of 63, Miss Birkin exudes the same kittenish sexuality that made her a star in the early 1960s but with a more mature and confident presence.

Jane Birkin was born in London in 1946 to a naval officer and an actress. Her willowy frame and her alluring looks made her a perfect model for the styles of the Swinging Sixties and before long she added film star to her resume. Her success took her across the English Channel to Paris where she won a role in the movie "Slogan" despite not speaking any French. The rest, as they say, is history. It was here that she first collaborated with the superstar and heart throb Serge Gainsbourg. The on-screen duet quickly led to a major off-screen romance and the pair were soon embroiled in an international scandal when they recorded the overtly sexual "Je t'aime...moi non plus [I love you...neither do I]", complete with orgasmic sound effects, which, naturally, became a smash hit in no time! They married, had a daughter (actress Charlotte Gainsbourg), and continue to collaborate musically while she pursued a career in film. Ultimately, Serge Gainsbourg's excessive drinking exacerbated their break up, although they remained on very good terms until his death from a heart attack in 1991.

Rather than put that part of her past behind her, Jane Birkin honored Gainsbourg's memory and their magical time together by continuing to perform his songs. Though not as naturally musically gifted as he, Jane Birkin puts her own special stamp on these melodies with her whispery, cottonball voice and her limber, almost gangly, dancing. Her appearances on concert stages around the world embody a combination of his classics and recent works written especially for her by a few, trusted composers.

Last evening's performance was both a trip back in time and very much in the present. While her trademark bangs have been replaced with a tousled short haircut, and the mini-skirt traded for a Charlie Chaplin inspired "Garçonne" look, Jane Birkin was still very much the bright-eyed ingenue but calmer and grateful for the success in her life. The predominantly French audience went crazy with applause and she and her four piece band graciously obliged with several wonderful encores. This after an eight hour bus trip from snow-bound Washington DC!

There are very few true icons in the world and Jane Birkin definitely ranks among them. Is it any wonder that Hermes named a handbag after her?!?!

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