Hubert Burda Media


At the unveiling of Bulgari’s Giardini Italiani collection, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy talks music, tennis and life as a polyglot.

TOP MODEL. CHANTEUSE and First Lady of France. Not many 47-year-old women can boast such accomplishments but this is the upward trajectory that has taken Carla Bruni-Sarkozy from the cover of Vogue to the hallowed grounds of the Elysée Palace. Since her beginnings as a supermodel, known for her risqué shoots with photographers such as Helmut Newton and her romantic dalliances with rock stars such as Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, to her successful foray into songwriting and pop stardom, the Italian-born and Frenchbred Bruni-Sarkozy has become one of the most talked-about and photographed women of the last three decades. That those photos include fashion shoots in which she appears au naturel and official pictures where she demurely curtsies to none other than Queen Elizabeth, clad in a conservative skirt suit, only speaks to the unusual life that this accomplished entertainer has led.
More recently, Bruni-Sarkozy has made a return to the modeling world. Not unlike other beauties of the supermodel era such as Christy Turlington, who just last year posed again for Calvin Klein, Bruni-Sarkozy has since 2013 been the face of Italian jeweller Bulgari. Although she’d never disappeared from the spotlight, especially in France and her native Italy, this was quite a comeback on the fashion stage, with the first campaign, shot by photographer Terry Richardson, depicting Bruni-Sarkozy lounging in a beautiful Roman palazzo as if reliving the glory days of la dolce vita. She’s also been gracing multiple events for the jeweller, showing up at its couture presentations and high-jewellery launches.
On a balmy evening last June, we met Bruni-Sarkozy in a rustic villa on the hills around Florence: an idyllic setting where Bulgari’s latest garden-themed high-jewellery collection, Giardini Italiani, debuted to a select group of the maison’s loyal clients. Clad in a ’70s-inspired Balmain pantsuit, the extremely tall and most undiva-like Bruni-Sarkozy cut an imposing figure in the rural surrounds and truly stole the limelight, followed by adoring onlookers and protected by a retinue of bodyguards (the security detail, however, was not just for show: Bruni-Sarkozy was wearing a necklace from the collection, featuring a 125-carat sapphire, snapped up by a very lucky jewellery aficionado for a mere €17 million).
Did working with Bulgari make you rediscover your Italian roots?
I’ve never left my Italian roots. I’ve lived in France since I was eight but Italy is my roots. I have to say that working for Bulgari was like a magic spell, not only because it brings me back to my Italian roots but also because it brings me back to a time that I always adored, the dolce vita. It was a time when I was born and a blissful time in life, in which luxury was a special occasion and no one felt guilty about it. Back then, there was no sense of injustice like now, so Bulgari for me is like a dream, and so is its fantastic muse of the time, Liz Taylor, who is also a dream for me. She had such an amazing and interesting life, extravagant but also dedicated to beautiful things and causes, not just herself. And I think of all those jewels she wore in private and for Cleopatra and other films. They’re legendary, so it’s like being part of this legend.
How did it feel to go back in front of the camera?
It was never new to go back to modelling but I have to say that I love the fashion world because it was my first professional family and it’s still like family to me. I’ve never distanced myself from that world; even when I became a singer or when I became first lady, I was still close to the fashion world in a way. I adore working in fashion … when you become a singer, you always work alone in the studio but when you do a shoot, there’s a whole bunch of fun people around you, from the photographer to the make-up artist, and they all like to have fun and are like a family. You chat and hang out with them. It’s a true pleasure. To tell you the truth, it’s not like work to me.
Why do you think models nowadays are not like the supermodels of yore?
I think it’s just a matter of fads coming and going. Just to give you an example, when I was a child, tennis players were like rock stars, like Hollywood actors. Borg, Panatta, Geroulaitis … When I was 10, people like McEnroe were absolute stars. It’s the same with models and the supermodel era. It’s that the media go through phases when they become obsessed with a specific profession and so does the public and it changes every decade or so. If you think about it, tennis players nowadays are fantastic and as talented as those of my youth, but we don’t know them that well. I think it’s something linked to fate, to what happens in the air, the general mood of the public. The ’90s were the years of the supermodels and that was then, although even now there are beautiful and successful girls such as Gisele Bündchen or Kate Moss or Malgosia Bela, who are women with a real life and children and also beautiful and successful.
What about your career as a songwriter? Did you always know that it was your real calling?
I used to write as a child and I always hoped to one day become a singer and do this as a job but I never planned anything or “designed myself”. I go with the flow and I let things happen. I did it pontaneously; nothing was planned. After all, when I started singing, it was quite late in my life. I was already 30. The same thing with children: I had them quite late in life, but I’ve never planned or predicted anything. If you think about it, it was just luck for me because fundamentally I’m not that beautiful or talented but I came a long way with the little I had going on for me and it makes me happy because my only desire from day one was to be in show business, so being a model and a singer, I love them both equally. I have no issues with my image, though often the image you project is very different from who you actually are as a person.
You sing in French and have also sung in English but you were born in Italy. What language are you more comfortable speaking and singing?
I do try to write in Italian and every day I sing songs of Italian singers such as De André, De Gregori, Lucio Dalla. I adore them and I was raised listening to Ornella Vanoni and Mina, who are the voices who almost nourished me when I was a child, a teenager. I grew up with them. For me Italian music is very important but I can’t write in Italian and I don’t know why that is. I write my own lyrics and music and it comes very naturally in French. I don’t have to plan it or decide. It’s not like a miracle that comes to me, but very natural. Maybe it’s because when I was a teenager, I mainly read books in French and my education was in French, even though I used to also read Italian authors such as Moravia, Italo Calvino, Luzzati, Natalia Ginzburg … I also adored the poetry of Leopardi. I studied Dante too but because I left Italian school when I was 13, all my literary culture was in French with authors like Baudelaire, Balzac, Rimbaud, so perhaps I write in French because the time of my life when I was most strongly influenced and shaped by culture was in France and in French.
Finally, can you share a memory related to jewellery?
I remember that my mother used to come and kiss me goodnight every night before going out, and she looked beautiful, smelled wonderful and wore amazing diamonds and emeralds given to her by my dad, so for me jewels have that tender connotation. To me a jewel is a symbol of that, something cosy and tender, something you cherish.