Birkin might well be the ultimate Renaissance woman, with a career as an actress, singer, model, and muse to singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, under her perfectly cinched belt — today's model-slash can't even attempt to compete. She's currently on tour with a group of Japanese musicians to raise awareness for Japan's post-tsunami troubles
You've been a muse to many over the years. Who do you think are some of the most inspiring muses out there today?
"Aung San Suu Kyi...President Obama...[Secretary of State] Clinton...Nurses, doctors, unknown heroes...[Catherine] Deneuve, [Agnes] Varda, Woody Allen, Kate Moss, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie's work with kids. Aung San Suu Kyi is and has been my 'muse' in a very spiritual way — her Buddhism, her freedom of fear, her straightforward thinking, her girlish humour. I met her, and for 15 years [I] wrote songs about her...[she's a] great source of inspiration, really."
What inspires your personal style?
"I don't know! I'm just me! I can't change now, it would be false ... "
It's true — your sense of style is truly iconic. Do you have a secret for looking effortless, cool and stylish?
"I really just wear what's comfortable! Today I have on five-year-old cashmere leggings full of holes, my agent's corduroy trousers (he's English, I admired them 10 years ago, he took them off and gave them to me!), a Japanese shirt I bought in Tokyo, and a Vanessa Bruno jersey. It's three years old, [but I] love the neckline. And this cardigan I scooped up just in time from a man I didn't know — it's Margiela, I adore it! I have a turban on my head that I made to hide my curlers for the show — it's a 15-year-old Thai silk scarf and a Hermès twisted muffler. For the show, I decided to wear all vintage stuff: Yves Saint Laurent 20-year-old "smoking" trousers, a 20-year-old dinner jacket and shirt from Charvet, and new suede men's shoes from Pierre Hardy. And a Hermès cashmere black coat. It was all mine, and I feel happy and boyish in it."
Do you have a favorite designer?
"I don't know that I have one ... I like doing fashon shoots and then buying up the things I like. I'm not a shopping spree person except in New York. I love secondhand shops. Oh, I did a Marc Jacobs looting last summer — still wearing his scarf, sometimes as a turban! I spent a fortune in his men's shop. In Japan, my American Express card said "theft" because I spent so much in a little shop on baggy linen trousers, the [flannel] shirt, corduroy trousers, presents for my girls, bowls, cooking saucepans, three cases of delicate Japanese porcelain dishes..."
What's your favorite place on earth?
"Paris, I'm in love with ... Istanbul, I fell in love with, and in Japan, Kyoto is a passionate, long-lasting love. If I was young, New York would have been fun ... Chelsea in London is a phantom love, my mother's house by the river Thames. But childhood is the place I loved — and miss — the most."
What's the best live concert you've ever been to? What made it memorable?
"Serge's Casino de Paris — he had a "fall guy" come crashing in and tumble down the staircase. (He rang me up kindly to warn me of the stunt so I didn't die of shock.) Then he came sauntering in with a cigarette ... it was great, funny, witty, classy, unique. If not that, then at 14, I saw Leonard Bernstein play Gustav Mahler at the Albert Hall. He did the whole two hours for us, then, as a surprise, the whole orchestra took off their bow ties and [played] the West Side Story overture ... grandiose! I waited for him in the snow for an autograph. What an attractive, generous man ..."
Do you have any hidden talents that most people don't know about?
"I sketch things quite well — hippopotamuses, children, little sketches of my band. My father was a real painter."
What's your favorite thing about touring?
"Meeting people, the contact, the mutual emotion, and sharing the beauty of my musicians. When they get a standing ovation, like in every town we've been to — people getting up for them and their talent — that makes me know that it was worth it. It's my gift to let you meet these talents. It's a lovely feeling, and down inside I think they know that Japanese woes are not forgotten."