Singer, songwriter, fashion model
Carla Bruni was known primarily for her spectacular career as a cover-girl fashion model and for her high-profile romantic attachments to men at the highest echelons of music, business, academia, and politics—including, as of 2008, her marriage to French president Nicolas Sarkozy. She unexpectedly began a new career as a recording artist in 2003 when she released the album Quelqu'un m'a Dit (Someone Told Me). Released to a skeptical music community, the album became one of the biggest hits of the year in France and established Bruni as a creative voice who could stand on her own, independent of her celebrity status. More than a one-hit wonder, Bruni continued to command attention with new music that seemed ripped from her life in the headlines of French newspapers and Web sites.
To those who knew her background well, Bruni's music making wasn't a complete surprise. Born Carla Bruni Tedeschi on December 23, 1968, in Turin, Italy, she grew up in a wealthy family (the fortune came from the CEAT tire manufacturing firm) that was devoted to music on both sides: Bruni's father and a grandfather both enjoyed composing music, and her mother was a concert pianist. Bruni, a competent guitarist, began her study of the guitar as an elementary school student in Italy and never stopped playing even during her years on the catwalk.
Fearful of kidnapping at the hands of the Marxist Red Brigades terrorist organization that bedeviled Italy in the early 1970s, Bruni's family moved to France. Bruni, who speaks Italian, French, and English fluently, was sent to a high-society finishing school in Switzerland, then returned to Paris to study art and architecture. Her formal schooling came to an end after the sister of one of her boyfriends expressed the opinion that Bruni had the looks for fashion modeling—and turned out to be right. By the early 1990s Bruni had ascended to the top of the modeling profession with a stint as the featured model in an international Guess? jeans advertising campaign. Over the course of the decade Bruni appeared on more than 250 magazine covers, and in 1995 she appeared in the fashion industry documentary Unzipped.
Like other top models, Bruni's romantic life was the subject of heavy journalistic coverage. She was linked to an impressive collection of famous men that included real estate magnate Donald Trump, French philosopher Jean-Paul Enthoven, actor Kevin Costner, and classic rock singers Eric Clapton and and Mick Jagger. Bruni later boasted in one of her songs of having had 30 lovers, and in an interview in the newspaper Le Figaro, quoted by the BBC, she said she was "bored with monogamy" and asserted that "love lasts a long time, but burning desire—two to three weeks." Her relationship with Jagger was more durable than most of the others, beginning in 1991 when she was 22 and lasting for much of the decade; it was thought to have precipitated the breakup of Jagger and longtime girlfriend Jerry Hall.
Bruni managed the decline of her modeling career intelligently, earning a reported $7.5 million in her last full year of work in 1998. But she told actress Jane Birkin in Interview that the song "Sois belle et tais-toi" (Be Beautiful and Shut Up) by French folk-pop star Serge Gainsbourg could have described the world of modeling. After she cut back on her modeling work, Bruni took singing lessons and began to try her hand at songwriting. Modeling her style on those of Gainsbourg (whom she had always admired) and Canadian-American folk icon Joni Mitchell, she landed several songs on the 2000 album Si j'étais elle (If I Were She) by French star Julien Clerc.
Bruni then began work on Quelqu'un m'a dit, produced by one of her ex-lovers, guitarist Jean-Louis Bertignac, who also co-wrote much of the music with Bruni. The album was released in October of 2002 with little support from Bruni's label, Naïve, and the few calls the company's marketing department did make were greeted with outright laughter from French music journalists. No one took the former model seriously except for the French music-buying public, who took to Bruni's reflective, folkish style, and propelled the album to the French top 20 within a few weeks of its release, and turned it into one of France's few million-sellers in a year when album sales were plummeting. The album became a major success across continental Europe and in Canada, with its large minority of French speakers.
Bruni's success as a musician was due partly to negative publicity, as usual better than no publicity at all. While involved in a relationship with Jean-Paul Enthoven, she began dating Enthoven's son Raphael, a rising French intellectual about a decade younger than she was. Raphael Enthoven left his wife, Justine Lévy (the daughter of a yet more famous French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy), for Bruni, and Justine Lévy took revenge by writing a bestselling novel containing a character named Paula the Terminator, who appeared to bear strong similarities to Bruni. Bruni and Enthoven had a son, Aurélien.
Appearing in 2003 with Canadian rocker-producer Daniel Lanois at Paris's famed Elysée-Montmartre music hall, Bruni became a major concert attraction in the City of Light. With her 2007 album No Promises, Bruni tried to crack the English-language market with an album in that language, featuring original songs as well as settings of poems by such writers as W.B. Yeats and Emily Dickinson. Bruni sought out advice on singing in English from fellow songwriter and former Jagger bedmate Marianne Faithfull. Barry Divola of Entertainment Weekly praised the album's "nicotine-on-velvet English vocals and … folk-tinged vibe." No Promises sold moderately well but failed to match the chart performance of its predecessor.
Then Bruni's love life gave her music another big boost. At a dinner party in November of 2007 she met French president Nicolas Sarkozy, shortly after his divorce from his second wife, Cécilia. A month later they were photographed together at the Disneyland theme park near Paris, sending European gossip columnists into overdrive as they tracked the movements of the new power couple. In some ways the two were an unlikely match; Sarkozy held strongly conservative views, but Bruni, who tended to the left politically, had voted for Sarkozy's Socialist rival, Ségolène Royal, in the elections in May of 2007 that elevated Sarkozy to power. On the other hand, Bruni was no stranger to high-level French politics, having numbered former prime minister Laurent Fabius among her paramours. Bruni and Sarkozy were married after a whirlwind courtship on February 2, 2008, whereupon the former model took the name Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
For the Record …
Born Carla Bruni Tedeschi, December 23, 1968, in Turin (Torino), Italy; daughter of Alberto Bruni Tedeschi (a tire manufacturer and composer) and Marysa Borini (a pianist); children: a son, Aurélien; married Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France, February 2, 2008; took name Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Education: Attended finishing school in Switzerland; studied art and architecture in Paris, France.
Worked as international fashion model, ca. 1987-1998; began taking singing lessons and writing songs for other artists; signed to Naïve label; released Quelqu'un m'a dit, 2002; performed in Paris clubs; released No Promises, 2007; released Comme si de rien n'était, 2008.
Awards: Victoire de la Musique Award, for Best French Female Artist of the Year, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Downtown Music, 485 Broadway, 3rd Fl., New York NY 10013. Web site—Carla Bruni Official Web site: http://www.carlabruni.com.
After these developments, expectations ran high for the release of Bruni's third album, slated for release in July of 2008. The album, entitled Comme si de rienn'était (As If Nothing Happened), featured new Bruni songs that seemed to refer to her relationship with Sarkozy. One, "Ma câme" (My Junk) had been written before the two ever met, but nevertheless captured the spirit of intense romance with such lines (quoted by Henry Samuel in London's Daily Telegraph) as "You are my junk. More deadly than Afghan heroin. More dangerous than Colombian white … My guy, I roll him up and smoke him." The odds seemed good that Bruni, even with her new marital responsibilities, would be able to maintain a high profile in her musical career.
Quelqu'un m'a dit, Naïve, 2002.
No Promises, Naïve, 2007.
Comme si de rien n'était, Downtown Music, 2008.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), June 12, 2008.
Entertainment Weekly, February 22, 2008, p. 97.
Independent (London, England), June 12, 2008, p. 14.
Interview, September 2004, p. 122.
Observer (London, England), April 4, 2004, magazine section, p. 14; February 3, 2008, p. 3.
Vanity Fair, November 2004, p. 376.
"Carla Bruni," Radio France International, http://www.rfimusique.com/musique/siteen/biographie/biographie_7863.asp (June 24, 2008).
"Carla Bruni: From Catwalk to Elysée," Expatica,http://www.expatica.com/fr/life_in/feature/Carla-Bruni_-from-catwalk-to-Elysee.html (June 24, 2008).
"Profile: Carla Bruni," British Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7189773.stm (June 24, 2008).
—James M. Manheim
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