Now, Ms. Bruni is a masterful manipulator, too. Even her ankles will seduce you! But what makes her different is her power to be both masculine and feminine in the perfect proportion, to be beautiful and bold, to lack shame completely—about her body (naturally), her intellect (she was educated at fine Swiss boarding schools), her sexuality. This woman decided she wanted to be a pop star, and became one. She’s a mom, but she’s other stuff, too. Then she decided to be the first lady of France—and she’s Italian!
Ms. Bruni proves that Americans haven’t cornered the marked on reinventing themselves. She’s done it again and again, from college girl intellectual to model to singer-songwriter to first lady. She’s powerful, and she knows it and likes it. It’s not just her sex that seduced the president (the story goes that she met him at an evening music dinner event, and spent the night singing sweet nothings into his ear) but also her brains and her lack of fear when it comes to showing off any part o
f herself. She makes it all look effortless; she wants everyone to know that being Carla Bruni is easy.
It’s a contrast to the current female role models we have at our disposal. There’s Senator Clinton, who reminds us at every turn what a treacherous road it’s been for her on the way to the 2008 primaries. There are the women of Lipstick Jungle—accomplished, gorgeous—who want you to know just how hard it is to be powerful women. (The jobs! The kids! The husband!) We wear our battle armor around the way Ms. Bruni wears her nakedness in the photo.
But wouldn’t it be nice to be free of that, to depoliticize things just for a moment, to be free to wing it?
Carla Bruni’s got a career, a kid, a husband, and now duties as France’s first lady—and it’s a snap. It’s a fantasy, too. But couldn’t we all use a little dreaming, instead of constantly having to confront better-looking versions of ourselves, or searching for common ground with celebrities? Wouldn’t it be nice to fall in love?
ABOUT THAT FANTASY … If ever there has been a charmed life, it may be Ms. Bruni’s. She was born rich, an heiress to an Italian tire company. She moved to Paris from Turin when she was 5 (her family reportedly left Italy to escape kidnapping by the Red Brigades) and was educated in Switzerland. She began to model at 19, at the suggestion of a friend, and worked for high-end designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix, Versace and Yves Saint Laurent. In the mid-’90s, Ms. Bruni was making more than $7 million a year.
But for Carla Bruni, modeling was just the simplest runway onto to the world’s stage. Her work introduced her to Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, with whom she was linked romantically; later, she lived with the French writer Jean-Paul Enthoven but fell in love with his son Raphael—who was not only 10 years her junior, but also married to Justine Lévy, daughter of rakish philosopher Bernard Henri-Lévy. (Yes, she broke up the marriage—the affair produced her son, Aurelien, who is 7.) Later, she was linked to the French prime minister.
As an adult, all of Ms. Bruni’s privileges served her well; her Italian beauty led to her modeling career; her French wiles led to an exciting and high-profile series of romances; and her European education led to suitability as France’s first lady. And then there’s the music. Music runs in Ms. Bruni’s family. Her mother is a classical pianist and her stepfather is a composer. This explains the pop star.
Don’t roll your eyes. Ms. Bruni’s songs are … très bien. Her 2003 debut, Quelqu’un m’a dit, was a collection of simple ballads and plucky tunes all sung in a husky half-whisper, the words spilling out on the infectious title track as fast as she can form them. (And yes, Ms. Bruni wrote her own songs—lost love, end of the affair, etc.—and plays the guitar charmingly.) She’s sold more than two million copies.
For her 2007 follow-up, No Promises, Ms. Bruni chose her favorite American and English poems and set them to music: Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, W. H. Auden. … It’s a schoolgirl’s assignment—you have to listen to this poem! I’ll sing it to my guitar. Rossetti’s “Promises Like Pie-Crust,” however, could be the soundtrack to Ms. Bruni’s life: “Promise me no promises/ So will I not promise you;/ Keep we both our liberties/ Never false and never true. … You, so warm, may once have been/ Warmer toward another one;/ I, so cold, may once have seen/ Sunlight, once have felt the sun.”
And this is another thing about Carla Bruni: Has there ever been a spouse in a political couple so honest, so frank, about her desires? Ms. Bruni says that because she is “Italian by culture,” she would not like to divorce and that she will be Mr. Sarkozy’s “wife until death.” For his part, Mr. Sarkozy seems like a puppy in love. Yet something about this arrangement works. She gets to be first lady; he gets to have one of the most beautiful women in the world.