After negotiating a sea of handlers and hangers-on, all of whom, with their au courant skinny jeans and shades, resemble extras in a Godard film—or these days, the bowels of Brooklyn—I arrive at the hotel suite’s back patio. And there, slouched over a white settee, she is: Carla Bruni. During her tenure as first lady of France, the former supermodel was a paragon of style and sophistication. She was the Gallic Jackie O; a woman none other than Karl Lagerfeld called a “beautiful creature who can wear anything.” On this balmy summer day, in a cut-off Keith Richards tee and suffocating black leather pants, Bruni is proving Choupette’s consort correct.
She has ventured to the Lower East Side of Manhattan to discuss her upcoming album, French Touch, and does so with delight, gesticulating gaily in between puffs from a purple vape pen worthy of Prince. Unlike 2013’s Little French Songs, with its not-so-thinly-veiled tribute to hubby Nicholas Sarkozy (“Mon Raymond”) and Hollande diss track (“Le pingouin”), this record feels a bit less personal: a collection of eleven song covers ranging from The Clash’s “Jimmy Jazz” to Audrey Hepburn’s “Moon River.” All of the tracks come imbued with Bruni’s trademark come-hitherness—a quality she acknowledges, spinning a yarn about an elderly French journalist who once confessed that her music set the mood for a steamy make-out session with his wife, only to have him fall asleep in the middle.
“I take it as a compliment,” says Bruni. “If people want to relax to my music, to kiss, to lay on the bed…” her eyes trail off as she flashes a knowing grin.
It all began after an L.A. concert of hers back in 2014. Bruni was approached by uber-producer David Foster, of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love” renown, who expressed his desire to collaborate on music together. While Bruni had written many songs in her native French, she’d tried writing in English and the experiment didn’t go too well. So Foster convinced her to cover some of her favorite tunes.
Bruni, a guitarist and a piano player locked themselves in her Paris home. They emerged one month later with demos of rearranged songs that were then sent to Foster, who immediately took to the sultrier renditions of canonical anthems.
“I wanted them to come off as very personal songs,” she explains. “[Foster’s] used to big, sprawling productions and I’m used to smaller ones, so we met somewhere in the middle. I gave him some of my intimacy.”
One cut that’s sure to make headlines is her version of The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” originally sung by Mick Jagger. Bruni dated the nimble rock legend at the height of her modeling fame in the early ‘90s, shortly after splitting from Eric Clapton, but maintains that it is in no way a coded message to her ex-lover.
“Some other Stones songs would probably be more suitable with my voice, but we did ‘Miss You’ because we found a Latin way into it. The beat was very disco, so we took it down a notch,” shares Bruni. “No matter how much I admire the Stones and how much I like Mick—he’s an old friend and all that—it has nothing to do with my relationship to the Stones. The reason we did it is because it sounded cool.”
While Bruni has acknowledged seeing Jagger, she’d like to clear the air about another rumored beau: Donald Trump.
As the story goes, on June 26, 1991, a photo of Trump and then-girlfriend Marla Maples was splashed across the front page of the New York Post accompanied by the blaring headline, “IT’S OVER.” The Post story alleged that Trump was leaving Maples for Bruni—a report Trump himself confirmed the following day. But Bruni was adamant that it was all a lie, and that she’d never spent any alone time with the boastful real estate mogul. Her version of events was corroborated in the Trump biography Lost Tycoon, which claimed that after she rebuffed him, Trump began spreading a rumor that he and Bruni were in a relationship.
“Trump is obviously a lunatic,” Bruni told the Daily Mail later that year. “It’s so untrue and I’m deeply embarrassed by it all. I’ve only ever met him once, about a year ago, at a big charity party in New York. And I haven’t seen him since, of that I’m sure.”
When I bring up the unfortunate episode to her, she shifts around uncomfortably on the sofa and lets out a deep sigh.
“Actually, the whole situation was very vague and just did not exist. So I was very surprised when he went to the press,” Bruni says of the current President of the United States.
As the Washington Post uncovered during his White House run, Trump used to pose as his own publicist, and, under the aliases “John Miller” and “John Barron,” would phone the tabloids and plant made-up stories about various A-list women he was supposedly dating, including Madonna, Kim Basinger, and Bruni.
“Ah, I heard about that!” she says of the story. “There’s not much I can say. What I can say is that I think democracy is better than dictatorships, and democracy is about elections. So… we respect democracy.”
Doesn’t it upset you, though, that one of the first things that comes up when you’re googled is this ridiculous Trump rumor? I ask her.
“That’s because it was a lie,” she says sternly. “Maybe it’s American Google, because if it’s French Google, other things come up—mostly my man, my work, my younger pictures. But I’m glad there’s not much about my children. I’ve been able to protect them.”
On her choice in men, Bruni once remarked, “The one thing all the men I’ve loved have in common is a strong feminine side. I find feminine men very virile and macho men very fragile. Machismo is a defense mechanism.” While that sentiment certainly applies to Clapton and Jagger, most wouldn’t describe her husband, former French President Nicholas Sarkozy, as fitting that description. But the 49-year-old Bruni says otherwise, and, all this talk of exes notwithstanding, seems very much in love, regularly singing the praises of her husband and affectionately referring to him as “my man” throughout our chat.
“My man, for instance, he looks so male. He’s my main man, my love, because I got married,” she says of Sarkozy. “I never got married because I don’t like to lie, so I got married when I thought that was it. It’s a precise contract. Marriage talks about fidelity, being with the person during bad times. It’s a commitment. So my man is very much a pure male—alpha male, I would say—but he has a very feminine, sentimental side that comes out to the family.”
When the Italian-born, France-raised Bruni began dating then-President Sarkozy in late 2007, the media predictably lost its marbles. The following April, a mere two months after they wed, a nude photograph of Bruni—taken by a French fashion photographer in 1993—was sold at auction for $91,000, causing a tabloid stir. A similar event occurred last July, when nude photos of then-candidate Trump’s wife, Melania, found themselves in the pages of the New York Post. Like Bruni, the photos were from Melania’s modeling days—though she is quick to point out that the scenario wasn’t exactly the same.
“It was very different because I had quite a bit of fame from my modeling and my first album,” says Bruni, throwing the most casual of shade. “So when I married [Sarkozy], they went rahhhhh. They just went crazy. And I’m from France and Italy, so to me, making artistic naked pictures wasn’t a problem. I was not ashamed at all. And the picture was from when I was 20 years old, before I had children, so I thought, ‘Well, I look good.’ Plus, I don’t have that overly sexy body. I’ve always been very thin and sort of teenage-looking, so my nude pictures were never Playboy-ish. They were more artistic nudes made by great photographers.”
“Plus, what’s the scandal about?” she continues. “To me, morality has to do with being a good person, so I don’t see any immorality with being nude at all. I see immorality as being unkind, cheating and lying to people. That’s immorality to me. But not being a pretty young girl and posing nude.”
French Touch is out in October, and Bruni plans to tour America, Europe, and South America shortly thereafter. She is thrilled to finally have ample time to explore her true passion, and that her stateswoman days are, at least for now, behind her.
“It was fun,” she says of her time as first lady. “A great time, great honor, and great experience, but it’s also a great relief now. It’s so brutal and so frightening. I was frightened for him. When someone is a president, people want to kill him. He’s in danger. At first I thought, ‘Oh, this is so funny,’ and after a few years you think, ‘Oh no, this is actually scary. Oh my god.’”
“Plus, I’m very much a free person so I like to go out, buy things, be free and not be surrounded by cops,” she adds.
Or cameras? I say.
“Cameras are alright,” she giggles, flashing a wink.