Jeanloup Sieff's portrait of Birkin from a 1966 shoot for Bazaar.
Consider of a well-lived existence, one so rife with adventures that when presented with a snapshot from your past, it takes three tries before you realize that the doe-eyed beauty in the image is you. Such was the case when the delightful 69-year-old actress, singer, and reluctant style icon Jane Birkin was shown the photo here, which was taken by Jeanloup Sieff during a 1966 shoot for Harper's Bazaar. "The photo literally burst out of my computer, and I thought it was for summer sales," she joked. "Then I thought it was from a photo shoot for my daughter Lou [Doillon]. It was only upon further investigation that I realized it was me. I can't remember a thing from that day other than that Jeanloup was quite divine. I looked like everyone else … too much eye makeup! We called it the 'fawn look.' "
Birkin is quite the conversationalist. She laughs easily and often while discussing a range of topics, from her upcoming tour with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal performing Serge Gainsbourg songs as "the closest she'll ever come to starring in a staged musical," to how her Cannes red-carpet look this year (a Saint Laurent tuxedo suit) included men's trousers that are "three sizes bigger because the boys have gotten very slim … or the other way around." She is also charmed by the custom Saint Laurent collar that former creative director Hedi Slimane made for her bulldog, and is thankful that "he didn't brand it; that would be too posh."
Her charisma has served her well since she moved to Paris in 1968, at the age of 21. By then she had married and divorced James Bond composer John Barry, with whom she had a daughter, the late photographer Kate Barry. Having already acted in bit roles in The Knack … and How to Get It and Blow-Up, the shy English model flew from London to do a screen test opposite Gainsbourg, the country's resident music sensation, for the film Slogan, and although she didn't speak a lick of French, landed the part. In the process they fell in love, had a daughter, and were a couple for 12 years, producing a lifetime of creative works that still endure. Their sexually explicit 1969 single "Je t'aime … moi non plus" would go on to sell more than six million copies, making her an unexpected household name, especially when the lusty ballad was banned from the radio in several countries. She would go on to appear in more than 70 films, release 19 albums, design what is arguably the world's most famous handbag, become a crusader for Amnesty International, and raise three artistic daughters—in addition to Kate and the singer-songwriter Lou, the actress Charlotte Gainsbourg.
All of that is well and good, but on this particular June day, Birkin is more into discussing her latest project du jour—a routine she adorably calls facial gymnastics. "There are various gymnastics that you can do for your body, of course, but also for your face, and I'm looking into that very seriously at the moment," she says of the natural alternative to plastic surgery. ä "I think you can do it for hours, but I don't think you'd need to do it for more than half an hour. Anyway, I've just come from my singing lesson, and for the high notes you have to smile and lift up, and that in itself is a sort of mini [face-] lift if you do it often enough, so for the moment I've been smiling." Birkin goes on to confess that she learned about the exercises on the Internet after coming across the Web site of London facial fitness expert Eva Fraser. "I admire very much the people who know how to do [surgery] gradually," she says. "But if you haven't done it gradually, it's going to come as quite a shock if you have a sort of different face. I don't dare do that."