Paris is Burning Over Carla Bruni
Finding quiet and stillness in the world today is very difficult,” lamented Carla Bruni, referring to her second album, No Promises—a thing of hushed beauty itself, as it sets poetic verse to music. “But in poetry, you can find that quietness; it’s very simple.” A simple moment of peace must seem like a pipe dream these days for the current First Lady of France, what with the world’s eyes trained on her and President “Bling-Bling” Nicolas Sarkozy, 53. As it is, she’s got the likes of Barbara Walters knocking down her door, desperate to get that most coveted of “gets,” and scandalmongering writers digging around the City of Light for pull-quote pay dirt.
(The latter is not exactly a difficult task, given the former supermodel’s high profile romantic travails—Mick Jagger, Donald Trump, Kevin Costner, and Eric Clapton are all notches on her designer belts.)
But on the sunny day we met up with her in Manhattan, before le affaire Sarkozy began in November, Bruni was granting a select few interviews in support of No Promises, the follow-up to her acclaimed 2003 debut, Quelqu’un m’a dit, an album which sold upwards of a million copies. This was the last U.S. interview she gave.
Over zucchini pizzas at Barbuto—the restaurant attached to the photo studio Industria—Bruni, dressed casually in faded pale denim jeans, a simple black camisole top, and tortoiseshell sunglasses (shading those famous cat eyes), was refreshingly open, vulnerable even. Two weeks prior, she had split up with her lover of seven years, the philosopher Raphaël Enthoven, her longest relationship to date—even if it wasn’t exactly a conventional one. “We were never this very bourgeois couple,” she said. “He moved out, but he was always in and out. He’s nine years younger than me. When I met him he was 23, and I got pregnant in six months. That’s young, so I always asked him to keep an apartment, too.”
What was really worrying her the day of our meeting was the welfare of the couple’s 6-year-old boy, Aurélien. “I’m having troubles, because my little boy in Paris is sick and the nanny doesn’t know where the medicine is,” she fretted, cursing the lack of cell reception in the West Village.
To make matters worse, she had just emerged from a photo shoot, a rare and grueling experience for her these days. She described it as “horrible. I hate [being in front of the camera]. Modeling was nice at the time. You know, I did it for 12 years, and I’m done with it.”
That “nice” gig netted her millions—Bruni, an heiress to an Italian tire manufacturing fortune, was one of a handful of the very top models throughout the ’90s, walking the runways for fashion houses like Chanel, Christian Dior, and Givenchy, and shooting mega-campaigns for Guess?. It ended, as modeling does, when 30 came around the bend. “When you hit a certain age, that’s it, you’re done,” she said. “It’s just a bit cruel, because you’re 30 and you’re young, but you feel old.” Thankfully, she had her music. “I was lucky I had music, because it kept me from depression. My first album wasn’t made in order to remain a model or become more famous; it was really only about my songs.” Bruni’s seductively breathy vocals and breezy, heartfelt originals —written and recorded as demos in her kitchen in Paris—struck a chord. “People were expecting the worst,” she said. “When people are expecting the worst, they always get nicely surprised when you’re just simple.”
That’s a sentiment she echoed more recently to a French newsweekly. “I understand that people are worried about what I am, especially with these portraits of me that are often fantastical and sometimes awful,” she said, in her first interview after her February 2nd nuptials to Sarkozy at the presidential Elysée Palace. “But I want to reassure the French. I am 40, I am normal, serious, aware, simple, even if I am privileged.”
Her work as a singer-songwriter attests to that. Bruni’s sophomore album, which finally hit U.S. record shops this spring, took courage. She turned the poems of Auden, Yeats, Emily Dickinson, and Dorothy Parker, among others, into songs with graceful melodies and languorously strummed guitar. It was an experiment that could have failed miserably, but her no-nonsense approach keeps it safely out of the realm of pretentiousness. “Poetry can seem so sophisticated, intellectual, or out of reach,” Bruni said of the project. “But it’s exactly the opposite. It’s like a heart beating.”