The Dance of Love

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, shot by Bert Stern for Vogue 1970.

Jane Birkin is a style icon, and inextricably tied to her namesake is the Hermès Birkin bag, and for that thanked by thousands of women. As the story goes, in 1981, while on a flight from Paris to London, Jean-Louis Dumas, an Hermès chief executive, was seated next to Jane, who had just stowed away her iconic straw bag in the overhead compartment; however, the contents spilled, falling to the floor and scattering everywhere, causing the actress to complain to Dumas that it had been difficult to find a weekend bag that she likes. Three years later, in 1984, Dumas created a black leather bag for her, and the Birkin was born... 

Serge and Jane's first meeting in the audition for the film, Slogan, was life changing to say the least. Jane could barely speak a word of French, and Serge immediately dismissed her. It wasn’t until a particularly distressing line in the script, a line where Jane needed to cry, that Serge stopped and took notice — the tears pouring down Jane’s face were not an act — they were tears for her recent break up from English conductor and composer, John Barry, and tears from the pressure she felt from this potential co-star who was being so horrible — she channeled them into her work, and it landed her the role. Little did Jane know, this moment would shape her entire future.
During a dinner for the cast & crew of the film, Serge & Jane, were left alone at the dinner table. Jane pulled Serge onto the dance floor, despite his cries of protest, only to be surprised to find he had two left feet; she found it charming and endearing. After the dancing, they escaped to a Russian nightclub where Serge convinced the musicians to play for Jane on the sidewalk. Many nightclubs later, the pair stumbled back to Serge’s room at the Hilton, where he promptly fell asleep while Jane used the bathroom. In her own words, "it was the most romantic of evenings. His face was so much more interesting than any other face I’d ever seen, with extraordinarily sad eyes and a beautiful mouth. He read me his poetry, and it was always a play on words. That was such an unusual trait—to be that romantic and funny."
It was 1969 in Paris. The very public affair between Serge Gainsbourg & Bridgette Bardot had ended, and fans couldn’t believe that Serge was already wooing another bird. "After that we went off to Venice, and that’s where I fell head over heels. He took away all the pain of it having not worked with John Barry, and I think I helped him get over Brigitte Bardot and her leaving him."  Jane Birkin 

It was this steamy and adventurous rendezvous which led to the release of the couple’s first duet, Je t’aime…Moi Non Plus The track was so explicit that it was banned by the Vatican and most countries would only play censored versions. The controversy it caused,  made it a top seller! Serge declared it to be "the ultimate love song". What many expected to merely be a fling, became a love which only grew deeper and deeper, and in 1971, Jane gave birth to their daughter, Charlotte. As with many relationships so obsessive and impassioned, emotions fly like a roller coaster — up one moment and down the next. So crazily in love, Serge & Jane were also the worst thing for each other. In 1983, Jane left Serge. So anguished while apart, but so toxic while together, she felt she had no other choice. It was the separation which brought out the best in each of the artists, and some of their best work was released following the break up — especially for Serge, who wrote Baby Alone in Babylone, the name of Jane Birkin’s album, and the first collaboration since their split; it is said to express Serge’s feelings on their severing ties. Despite separating, Serge & Jane remained close friends — speaking often on the phone. Serge had been a heavy smoker and drinker for years, and this addiction took a toll on his body. At 45, Serge suffered his first heart attack, and many further health complications arose in the following years. It was on the 2nd of March 1991 that Serge Gainsbourg was found dead in his home, following a severe heart attack. Committed fans flocked to his house to pay tribute and their respects. "Our friendship went on until his dying day. He rang me in London to say he bought me a big diamond because I had lost one that he’d given me. I said, "Oh, stop drinking, Serge." And a day later, on March 2, 1991, he was dead." —Jane Birkin 
I found a long quote from Jane about their romance and that love sometimes doesn't work but the feelings don't disappear, they still exist, live on...

"When I gave birth to our daughter Charlotte in 1971, Serge said it was the happiest night of his life. He wanted us to marry, but I’d been married to John and that was enough. Now I regret turning Serge down.
I left him after 12 years, partly because of his drinking. I was starting to find others attractive too – that’s when our age gap made a difference. But Serge went on being in love with me and writing songs for me, and bought me a diamond three days before he died in 1991. I couldn’t have had anyone who loved me more and I don’t think I’ll ever live in England again – I’m too spoilt in France."

A great love story like theirs is legendary, and along with the music they made together, both will never be forgotten.


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