We don’t get to see The Bag, as the filmmaker and photographer Andrew Birkin calls it. But that may be the only part of Jane Birkin’s luxe life that we don’t encounter in Jane & Serge: A Family Album, a new book devoted to the (mostly sixties and seventies) life of his sister; her longtime partner, the French singer-songwriter-artist-icon Serge Gainsbourg; their daughter, Charlotte, now an actress and singer; and their other kids from an array of relationships. No photographer would ever be able to spend so much time around an “It” couple today; this book could only have come about through a highly unusual confluence of the couple’s casual attitude toward celebrity, Andrew Birkin’s closeness to them, and his sheer photographic skill.
The pictures show a well-off, well-lived, unencumbered life of sociability and food and travel and style and general coolness. (That Hermès bag was created for Jane a few years later.) In fact, on its surface, Serge and Jane remain a beau ideal for a lot of people. Half the young women in New York today dress like Jane did—or try to—and besides, who doesn’t want to make art and take pictures and hang around in the south of France? Which is why their relationship, seen from here, is also bittersweet: We know that their life together was difficult, that they split after just twelve years, that Serge smoked too much and drank way too much and died too young, and that Jane reportedly never quite got over him. Like all such albums, this shows us a family only at its happiest. But what a family!
*This article originally appeared in the December 9, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.