Style | The Aesthete

Jane Birkin talks personal style

Singer, actress and film director Jane Birkin starred in Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Her most recent album is entitled Jane Birkin au Palace.

February 16 2010
Maria Shollenbarger

My personal style signifier is my Hermès [Birkin] bag, stuffed with everything necessary, and on which are all of my trinkets and souvenirs. There are stickers for Aung San Suu Kyi and for the FIDH [International Federation of Human Rights], Amnesty International too. Some Greek worry beads, some ribbons my door keys are tied to... it weighs an absolute ton. £4,100, Hermès, 155 New Bond Street, London W1 (020-7499 8856; www.hermes.com) and branches/stockists.

The last thing I bought and loved was a beautiful Yohji Yamamoto lambswool and leather jacket. It’s a bit new, so I got Dora, my bulldog, to sleep in it. It won’t take long to break in. 14-15 Conduit Street, London W1 (020-7491 4129; www.yohjiyamamoto.co.jp).

And the thing I’m eyeing next is a massage. Oh, the luxury of being in someone else’s hands, having essential oils pummelled in, taking the pain from my shoulder away... and then, sleep.

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the last year is Lisbon, specifically the Fronteira Palace. It’s wild: you can buy these tiles with naive little cats’ faces [painted on them] and the gardens are as magical as Beauty and the Beast. Eccentric, charming, never to be forgotten.

A recent “find” is the Marché aux Puces des Salins in Clermont-Ferrand. I bought four garden chairs, a Gitanes ashtray, a vegetable basket, a delightful papier-mâché parrot wearing a straw boater, a hat stand and an illuminated, five-foot-tall maquette of a warship. We had to hire a van to get it all back to Paris. www.puces63.com.

The last item I added to my wardrobe was a beautiful Dries Van Noten scarf: soft green chiffon on one side and cashmere on the other. www.driesvannoten.be.

My favourite websites are BBC.co uk, to know what’s going on in the world and for a glimpse of David Attenborough, if I’m lucky. And also Wikipedia, for fast history. www.bbc.co.uk. www.wikipedia.org.

In my fridge you’ll always find potatoes, butter, special-grain bread, soya milk, very dark chocolate – and the 1,001 antibiotics I’m taking.

If I weren’t doing what I do, I would throw myself into activism. I’d support Aung San Suu Kyi, and the Afghan refugees. I’d [fight to] stop chartered planes taking them back to a country still at war.

The books on my bedside table are George Orwell’s Burmese Days and Clisson et Eugénie by Napoleon. And I’ve just finished Camus’ L’Etranger, and am halfway through La Peste.

The best gift I’ve given recently was boxing lessons for my grandson. If he’s angry at the world, it gives him a graceful way to let it out.

And the best one I’ve received recently was felt-tip-pen drawings put onto fridge magnets from my daughter Charlotte’s kids. Also, from my other daughters: Lou’s painting of her feet and Kate’s photo of a red-haired girl in knickers.

The grooming staples I’m never without are potpourri sachets for my clothes from Santa Maria Novella; Myrrhe candles from Diptyque; Caudalíe Vinexpert Crème Bonne Mine for my face and Embryolisse crème for legs, arms and feet; Eight Hour Cream by Elizabeth Arden, for smothering the lips in; and Sisley products, every day all year. www.caudalie.com. Diptyque, 195 Westbourne Grove, London W11 (020-7727 8673; www.diptyqueparis.com) and branch/stockists. www.elizabetharden.co.uk. www.embryolisse.com. Santa Maria Novella, 117 Walton Street, London SW3 (020-7460 6600). Sisley, 020-7591 6380; www.sisley-cosmetics.com.

An object I would never part with – well, the one I thought I’d never part with – is my “monkey”, a felt toy I had for 40 years. I lent him out for dangerous operations: my father’s lung operation, my ma’s hips. Serge wrote Orangutan about him and I’m holding him against my stomach, which contained Charlotte, on the cover of Melody Nelson. I never, ever slept without him, from boarding school all the way through my marriages. But I put him in Serge’s coffin to keep him safe in the underworld, like a Pharaoh.