Carla Bruni on Remaining Hopeful During COVID and the Time She Confronted a Lying Trump
The French-Italian chanteuse opens up to Marlow Stern about her lovely new album, time as first lady, and a seriously bizarre episode with Donald Trump.
In these pandemic-stricken times, Carla Bruni’s Gallic insouciance is a breath of fresh air. She refers to her husband, the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy as “my man;” and the novel coronavirus she calls “the coveed.”
“It’s so strange. My God. So strange!” she remarks in her airy voice. “I’m just like everyone else, I guess. Happy to be alive!”
She’s been cooped up in the South of France with her mother, aunt, sister and her children, as well as Sarkozy, during the deadly contagion, chortling as she recounts how her mother has been “getting on her nerves” and “treating me like I’m 12.”
When I mention that many in America have continually refused to wear face masks during the outbreak, owing to some strange libertarian notion that it treads on their personal freedoms, she lets out a big gasp. “That’s crazy!” she exclaims. “Are there really people that do that? Treading on their rights?! It’s their duty!”
Bruni, 52, has rung me to discuss her sixth studio album, which will be self-titled (the single “Un grand amour” can be heard here), her first made up of original material in seven years, and will be released Oct. 9. Like most of her oeuvre, it’s a light, sensuous affair brimming with love and longing. “It’s not dark at all. The mood wasn’t coming from the coveed,” she offers. “Last November, I just got some very alive vibes, very alive feelings, and wrote the album in a very joyful situation. I don’t know why! But that’s the way it was.” A pregnant pause fills the air. “Some people near to me died. It was quite personal. And every time I get near death, it gives me a strange flow of energy, and desire, and makes me so scared that I have to compensate for it. After the grief, and after the pain of losing someone, somehow, I have a burst of life in my mind, and in my heart.”
Bruni wrote nine of the 15 songs on the album during COVID confinement, and 30 in total. “It takes a lot of potatoes to make a very pure, small glass of vodka,” she says.
Once the quarantine was lifted, Bruni and her band convened at a recording studio in Paris, where they recorded the album live in just six days—wearing masks in-between sessions, with musicians separated by a series of rotating walls. The effect is intimate and sweeping at once. “Everyone is playing at the same time, so there’s a movement that you don’t have where you do it like a cheesecake, where it’s layer-by-layer—the piano, the guitar, the vocals. We did it all at the same time,” recalls Bruni.
The chanteuse says she’s most inspired by “being sensitive,” and harbors a borderline obsession with amour fou—as on the track “Your Lady,” her first tune in English. “I like desperate songs. Impossible things. Impossible things are very inspiring—even more than possible things,” she coos. “I love to write about impossible love.”
In the ‘90s, Bruni was one of the top fashion models in the world, earning millions a year working the runways for Dior, Versace, Chanel, and Saint-Laurent, whilst romancing Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, and Kevin Costner, to name a few.
She looks back on her champagne-popping, blue steel-flashing catwalk era fondly—save for one bizarre episode with a vainglorious real estate mogul by the name of Donald J. Trump.
According to Harry Hurt III’s Trump biography Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, which contained eye-opening details from first wife Ivana Trump’s divorce deposition—including an allegation of rape against her then-husband—Bruni conned the Don, who appeared to be infatuated with her, into gifting her last-minute hotel accommodations at his Plaza Hotel:
Carla mischievously informed Donald that her ‘sister’ was coming to town. He immediately offered to provide a room at the Plaza Hotel. The visitor was actually one of Carla's longtime female friends, who showed up at the Plaza with a boyfriend in tow. Carla and her friends spent the next few days ordering room service and gloating over the way they fooled the ‘King of Tacky.’
Then things got truly weird. On June 26, 1991, the New York Post ran a cover story about Trump splitting from his then-girlfriend Marla Maples, and alleging that Trump had left her for Bruni. (Bruni denied it to the press, saying she’d only crossed paths with Trump a few times and calling him “a lunatic.”)
When I recite the book passage to Bruni, she laughs hysterically. “It’s half-true, half-not true. My friend went to the Plaza with her boyfriend for a week in New York, and I did ask Mr. Trump at the time if I could get a room there. But I wasn’t there. I was actually in Europe. I met Donald Trump very rarely, maybe twice,” she maintains.
Bruni didn’t really give the whole curious episode much thought until recently when she watched the Netflix documentary Trump: An American Dream, and saw scenes of Trump impersonating his own press agent and phoning the tabloids to claim he was dating everyone from Kim Basinger and Madonna to Bruni.
“I watched this Netflix documentary, and [Trump] called that woman that was a journalist and she recorded that. And he talked as if he was his own press agent!” says Bruni, giggling. “And we could hear in the recording that so many women were after him, like me, Kim Basinger, and Madonna. Madonna literally hates Trump! She must have had a heart attack!”
Bruni tells me that she then confronted Trump about the bogus dating rumors. “He started making things up, so I gave him a call and he said, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. It’s coming from journalists.’ And I said, ‘This is not real! We’ve never really met! How can it come from a journalist?!’” she remembers. “It was a really strange situation. But then I realized that was just his way of functioning. That is how he functions with everything and everybody.”
It surprised many when, in the early aughts, Bruni transitioned seamlessly from supermodel to bestselling recording artist. Her 2002 debut album, Quelqu’un m’a dit, sold over 2 million copies, garnered rave views, and has had its songs featured in everything from the film (500) Days of Summer to the U.K. television series Skins.
And, if globetrotting fashion model or musical star weren’t enough, Bruni achieved a third act following her 2008 marriage to then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy: first lady of France. Clad in Dior, the statuesque Bruni was undoubtedly the most glamorous first lady since Jackie O. When it comes to the current first lady of the United States, Melania Trump, well, Bruni prefers discussing Michelle Obama.
“Well, Melania is beautiful. But I was crazy about Michelle Obama. She was so charming in life, and so warm,” says Bruni. “I’ve never met Melania. I have a hard time judging someone I’ve never met because people can be so different from their image. When you’re in that position you get very paranoid and filled with fear. I don’t think the style of the first lady depends very much on the way she dresses—it’s more the vibe and what she does for people.” She continues, “You have the power to help other people, and those are my best memories. So… I think Melania will be judged more through that. I love what Michelle Obama did for nutrition in America. She did a great job. I hope Melania has the occasion of… helping other people.”
While there have been rumblings that her embattled husband is considering another political run, Bruni appears grateful to be relieved of the anxiety that comes with being the first couple of France.
“To tell you the truth, when my husband was the president I was just scared all the time—that something might happen in the world, that something might happen to him,” she confesses. “I was stressed for him. But I tried to be professional and cool. I’m not the type of woman who gets involved in the person I love’s [business], so I didn’t want to do something wrong.”
She pauses again. “The danger is so high when you’re the president of the French Republic. And you feel that danger.”
Bruni received a great deal of unwarranted scrutiny during her time as first lady due to her modeling past. Mere months after her wedding to Sarkozy, a nude photograph of Bruni taken in 1993 sold at auction for $91,000; months after that, she was forced to sue the clothing company Pardon for producing a line of luxury bags decorated with another nude photo of her from ‘93. She says it was a violation of sorts, though remains proud of her past. “I don’t deny that part of my life, although when it came out it was embarrassing,” she says. “But I was 25 so I looked good.”
With our conversation coming to a close, Bruni bids me adieu—and with it, a parting message of positivity: “I hope you get good elections there!”