It makes sense that if you were going to design a lingerie set as a tribute to Jane Birkin, it would include almost nothing at all.
That’s exactly what the sensual Mexican designer Marika Vera has done in creating the Birkin Bondage, a barely-there G-string and choker set named for the English singer-actress who set hearts aflame and beds afire back in the 1970s.
This is lingerie in name only; it’s really a role-playing costume piece designed to test the limits of your self-confidence. An outfit, as Marika says, “for the daring bride”. You don’t get much fabric for your buck, but you’ll burn an image into your groom’s brain that will last a lifetime.
The Birkin set is part of Vera’s uniquely erotic summer bridal collection, Hello Eternal Love, which includes 10 silk and chiffon pieces inspired by some of popular culture’s most familiar icons of femininity.
To the casual observer, Jane Birkin might seem a bit out of place among other muses in this collection like Grace Kelly and Jackie O — she was never really a fashion star, her acting career was spotty and her profile outside of France and England was limited. So why was she included?
The answer lies not so much in Marika Vera‘s design aesthetic as in the broader social purpose of her unique label. Over the past three years, Marika has been chronicling the erotic touchstones of modern culture in her lingerie designs, blog writings and marketing materials. She’s as much an archivist, educator and activist as she is a fashion designer; her daring lingerie styles are simply one way of expressing her very libertarian take on human sexuality.
And I like to think she created the ivory bridal bondage set simply because she felt Jane Birkin deserved not to be forgotten.
In a blog post on her website, Marika calls Birkin “an icon in the bedroom”, but that hardly covers her full impact. Slightly androgynous, sexually ambiguous and totally uninhibited, Birkin is credited with doing the first full-frontal nudity in mainstream cinema in Antonioni’s Blow-Up in 1966. But she’s best known for her all-consuming romance with French composer Serge Gainsbourg (above) and as the breathy voice in that song.
Released in 1969, Je t’Aime … Moi Non Plus featured a melody that seemed pulled from heaven itself and a background track of Birkin’s orgasmic moans. It gave censors fits everywhere, was heavily edited to dampen its erotic pulse, and may, ultimately, be the most talked-about song in modern history. A few years later, Birkin and Gainsbourg upped the ante with a nude bondage-flavored photoshoot in Lui magazine; even 40 years later, in a world where “selfies” and home sex tapes are boringly commonplace, the Birkin-Gainsbourg photos have lost none of their phenomenal sexual potency.
For middle-aged guys (like me) who came of age in the early 1970s, Jane Birkin was much more than just a celebrity girlfriend or scandalous headline-hunter. She represented a new kind of woman, in the tradition of Isadora or Mae West or Josephine Baker, a fearless sexual expressionist who felt unconstrained by … anything.
I recall clearly that when Je t’Aime … finally fought its way onto North American airwaves, the world stopped every time it aired as people leaned in to listen closely to Jane’s and Serge’s amours. Je t’Aime … was like a sex education course in three minutes, and a thrilling antidote to the sanitized, air-brushed versions of sexuality that we were fed by contemporary media culture. Like everyone else I knew, I heard that song thousands of times but never dared buy it in case my parents found out!
Jane Birkin isn’t usually considered a feminist standard-bearer, but perhaps she should be. She was one of a handful of artists in the 1970s who dragged eros into the mainstream, challenging censorship laws and compelling people to confront the raw beauty of their passions. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that boundary-pushing adventurers like Marika Vera (and many others in the lingerie industry) are the direct descendants of Birkin’s tribe.
An “icon in the bedroom”? Perhaps, but an icon of liberation too.
And while she may be best known for her sexual adventures, Birkin also taught us a lot about real amour. Her incendiary romance with Gainsbourg eventually burned itself out after a dozen years (and one child, the superb actress-singer Charlotte Gainsbourg), but Birkin is still active today — recording and performing her deceased lover’s song catalogue, committed to keeping his musical legacy alive. If that isn’t love, what is?
Below are images from the rest of Marika Vera’s bridal line, featuring visually arresting styles named after Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Jackie O, Jagger (Mick or Georgia May?), Sophia Loren, Mexican pop star Selena and the enigmatic “Sam” negligee (which I am guessing is named for Coco De Mer founder Sam Roddick).
We should all live so boldly as to earn such a tribute.