Jane Birkin tells her stories

I saw Jane Birkin on Sunday afternoon, in an intimate theatre, reading from her two-volume autobiography, "Munkey Diaries". I felt as if I were standing behind her as she riffled through her closet, showing me the cherished things faded by use.

She flitted through nearly seventy years of her diary entries, her voice rich with emotion. In a near-reverie when she summoned lost loved ones: her parents, her daughter, Kate, and of course Serge Gainsbourg. Especially moving was the love letter she wrote Gainsbourg after they separated.

She appeared in the simplest clothes—a black v-neck sweater, dark jeans and black Converse sneakers; the only colour was her chestnut-brown mid-length bob. Birkin commanded the stage for nearly two hours though she moved only a few inches, to turn the pages.

Now age 75, and surfacing after her treatment for leukemia and the death of her daughter Kate, her difficulties are not the reason for her decontractée look; it has been her signature since her forties. She doesn't wear dresses, saying in a Vogue France interview, "At one point, you have to know how to give up the ladies' dresses. They make you look older. It's like makeup: at a certain age, stop playing with false eyelashes. Otherwise, it becomes terrifying."

Her 'uniform' of v-necks and jeans or the simplest trousers are easy to find and wear, but a correct fit elevates them. In the windows today, clothes influenced by Jane, but with subtle colour, for spring. You could just buy your wardrobe at Everlane, but if you prefer a little more detail or higher quality, look around.

"Sophie" open-front sweater blazer in "faded mint", but also available in Birkiny colours like heathered grey, navy, and khaki; price, about $US (218)
Colour block alpaca wool blend v-neck sweater, And Other Stories; price $US 99.
Cashmere/cotton v-neck in nude (on sale now; 50% off) by Eric Bompard; price $US 150.

Another Birkin signature is the white silk shirt, and here I would not spend a great deal of money, because white silk is like a dandelion puff, beautiful but by its nature short-lived.

If ivory or pure white does not suit you, try another neutral. Be picky about the fabrication, because every little thing shows up.

Hers are oversized, though you might prefer a closer fit or shorter sleeves, the attitude stays relaxed: rolled sleeves, a few buttons undone.

She read an entry about her arrival in Paris at seventeen to improve her French and realized she would never put in the effort to be anyone other than "an English girl", though she did note that that she and Françoise Hardy (for whom she was occasionally mistaken) had the same Paco Rabanne dress. Hardy's was to the knee but hers was shortened by two rows to "be like a long shirt".

Left: Boden ivory silk shirt;  price, $CDN 195. A wide size range, and it also comes in navy and black.

Centre: J. Crew's shirt, in Re-Imagined Silk (dyed without hazardous materials, among other manufacturing features), is $CDN 205 (but there are often promotions), and comes in this rich "adobe" colour, as well as pales. It's showing orange on my screen, but is actually a more browned clay.

Right: Everlane make a silk shirt in what they call grey-white, so if the warmth of ivory doesn't suit you, this cool hue will read differently; currently on sale (limited sizes, up to 16) for $US 65, also in ivory and stone. More colours, including a stripe: Clean Silk Relaxed Shirt.

The strictest is the Boden, with its pocketless, placketed front; the J. Crew has visible buttons and a pocket; the Everlane and J. Crew both have shirring.

A topper

A balmaccan or "mac" is the queen of the clean line, and it is unnecessary to buy a rubberized one, which makes you sweat and is too heavy, unless you're whale-watching. A water-resistant cotton or cotton blend will be fine for everyday jaunts.

Left: Donna Karan's extra touches earn the price tag. Her Trapeze cotton trench (that's what she calls it though I don't see it as one) is washable, and the slight sheen to the fabric adds interest. Also, it's an a-line, which makes a difference when you're sitting. In khaki and black; price, $CDN 525.

Top right: Gap "Mac coat" is 70% cotton/30% nylon and machine-washable; price,  $CDN 148; sizes up to XXL. (Your size may be s/o on line but available in store.)

Bottom right: Everlane's 100% cotton mac has a water-resistant finish, which must be why it is dry-clean only; price, $US 152, in this sober blue check—very bcbg—or other colours.

I was touched by Jane Birkin; even though I knew the milestones and characters through decades of interviews, it's another thing entirely to hear her tell the stories.

It was the same with her simple outfit, which can look generic in photos, but in person, framed her grace perfectly.


Vildy said…
That remark re: ladies dresses making you look older, from the Vogue interview, caught me by surprise. I'm used to the stereotypical reveals that looking "better" always turns out to be taller, younger, thinner, but would've imagined her immune.
Duchesse said…
Vildy: Why should Birkin be "immune" when her living has been achieved thanks in no small part to the gift of beauty? She has spoken frankly on the loss of her beauty, and in a Harper's Interview said, "the essential thing, now, is a sense of humour."
See my post https://passagedesperles.blogspot.com/2018/02/jane-birkin-my-beautyits-gone.html
Martina said…
I wish I had the discipline to find a uniform and stick to it...alas, I’m constantly seduced by color.
Leslie M said…
That sounds like a very enjoyable day. Birkin was never on my radar, though I was aware of her on the periphery of things. I can now appreciate her wisdom and wardrobe. Just when I was about to start feeling bad about my jeans and sweater uniform. 😁. I love the look of a silk shirt and jeans, but, apologies for the tangent, I find silk makes me sweat. Is this a thing and does it pass?
Duchesse, do you have a signature look?
Duchesse said…
Martina: A uniform may mean a narrow palette, but not necessarily, see my comment to Leslie M. Jane Birkin wears neutrals but not strictly black and grey; I have seen her in pale blue, olive, russet... but not prints.

Leslie M: I wear the same thing as you from mid Sept through April: jeans, sweaters, scarves. That's why I hardly ever do WIW posts! I do wear colour (the sweaters and scarves.) In warm weather, jeans and lighter tops, and in our hot summer, light skirts.

Heavy and mid-weight silks are OK in fall, too heavy in summer. My silk shirt is thin and loose-cut, so it can go into summer. The fabric I find too hot in our 30C+ days is cotton interlock. I sweat in that. Many people find silk too hot in warm weather, or in rooms heated to summer temps, others are fine in it.
Jane in London said…
I think Jane Birkin is still lovely and her personal style remains strong. She is one of several British women (Kristin Scott-Thomas, Charlotte Rampling, Petula Clark, et al) who seem to have been made honorary Frenchwomen by the French!

The perennially gorgeous Francesca Annis (74) has recently starred as the glamorous lead in a drama on British ITV, and her character wore a lot of the style 'uniform' that Annis also wears in real life - slim-leg trousers with a close-fitting cami and a loose shirt or blouse worn open over the top. It's wonderful to see a mature actress who still has her own face being cast as exciting and desirable.

Jane in London
Duchesse said…
Jane in London: Yes, IMO Francesca Annis actually looks her most interesting now, than when she was a blonde ingenue. Also, Vanessa Redgrave, though she recently has had to curtail performances.
Wendelah said…
She doesn't wear dresses, saying in a Vogue France interview, "At one point, you have to know how to give up the ladies' dresses. They make you look older. It's like makeup: at a certain age, stop playing with false eyelashes. Otherwise, it becomes terrifying."

The Fashion Police strike again!

She thinks that wearing a dress makes you look older but that her outfit looks youthful? She doesn't look young but so what? Worrying about looking old is very aging. Also boring. YMMV.
Duchesse said…
Wendeleh: Anyone can issue an opinion, especially if •being interviewed about their style•. Fashion Police is a strange term; unlike the real police, there are no tickets being issued, no arrests, and no criminal records.

I agree worrying about being old is boring. Maybe if I a) made my living from my looks among other qualities, and b) were photographed every time i was in public (including at my child's funeral), I'd be more concerned about whether I looked older than I am.

The posts with the most