MAN trap, serial heart-wrecker, rocker arm candy, photogenic cipher, arrogant heiress, polling gimmick the woman who appears likely to become the first lady of France has been called a lot of things lately. The last thing anyone would have thought of is that she’s a catch.
Barely three months after his divorce from his wife, Cécilia, the polarizing but media-savvy French president Nicolas Sarkozy has become a principal in a hyper-publicized romance that has even the normally high-minded French press gossiping about the details in goosey tabloid terms. See the lovers moon around the pyramids and Euro Disney! Watch the Saudis grapple with the free-living ways of the French! Can Indian officials invent protocol to accommodate a First Sleepover Pal? Will the French public accept a woman who espouses polyandry, has a son by a philosopher whose father she once also dated, and who has been romantically linked with Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger? Will a whirlwind courtship and marriage ultimately bring Mr. Sarkozy’s approval ratings up from the dumps?
Because model is so often used as a synonym for moron, few have stopped to consider that, in pure résumé terms, Ms. Bruni may be better equipped than many for a gig at Élysée Palace. For starters, she is a stepdaughter of an Italian tire magnate and classical composer, Alberto Bruni Tedeschi, who is married to her mother, Marisa Borini, a concert pianist. She is rich and well educated (in France, where her family moved in the 1970s to escape a wave of kidnappings in Italy) and speaks three languages.
After she aged out of her career as one of the most highly paid models of the 1990s, with campaigns for Dior and Chanel and some 250 magazine covers to her credit, she became a musician, a transition less surprising when one considers her heritage and past relationships. Her first album of breathy emotive music, set mostly to acoustic guitar was released in 2003 and quickly became a success. “Quelqu’un m’a dit” (“Someone Told Me”) produced a best-selling single, sold over a million copies in France, another 300,000 outside the country and in 2004 garnered Ms. Bruni the French equivalent of a Grammy as the country’s best female vocalist.
That she managed to make a go of her sophomore album, “No Promises,” was no mean feat, either, said Joe Levy, the newly appointed editor of Blender magazine. Why? “It’s pretentious and sexy at the same time,” Mr. Levy said, adding rhetorically, “how completely appropriate is it for a woman who embodies those virtues to marry the president of France?”
Of course, plenty of people think otherwise, although the feelings of Mr. Sarkozy’s ex-wife must be left to the imagination. In several just-released biographies she takes aim at her ex-husband as an unstable skinflint, but does not deign to comment on her successor.
Ms. Bruni, though, may turn out to be well suited to Ms. Sarkozy’s former role. She is also no slouch in a catfight. Just three months after meeting the French president at a dinner party, the woman who told a French magazine that she indeed was “a cat” and a tamer of men was seen wearing a pink diamond engagement ring made for her by Victoire de Castellane, the Dior jewelry designer, and had already transformed an Élysée Palace salon into what the French press referred to quaintly as a “pop music room.”
“Carla works quick,” a French fashion editor familiar with Ms. Bruni from her modeling days, said of her, speaking anonymously to avoid betraying their friendship. Certainly this view is shared by Justine Lévy, the novelist daughter of the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who was married to the philosopher Raphaël Enthoven when Ms. Bruni fell in love with him, after reportedly conducting an affair with his father, Jean-Paul. A novella Ms. Lévy wrote afterward about this contorted scenario featured a fictional character based on Ms. Bruni, a woman “beautiful and bionic, with the look of a killer” and known as the “Terminator” in the book.
These things may not be positive in the political arena. Yet, some people ask, is Ms. Bruni less publicly palatable than her diffident predecessor just because she has been photographed in nothing more than underpants?
“Who’s trading up here?” said Paul Cavaco, the creative director of Allure magazine, and a seasoned fashion business insider. “Is Carla the right quantity to be at state dinners? Why not? She’s smart, she’s conversant, she’s from money, she’ll know about literature and art and current events. She’s warm as a person, and the fact that she’s a recognized beauty, why does that hurt?”
Beauty was no drawback for Cécilia Sarkozy, from whom Mr. Sarkozy was divorced in October and with whom he has a 10-year-old son, Louis. Haughty she may have seemed, and remote and, as it turned out, flatly uninterested in staying the course. But in the brief period before she decamped for New York and put an end to her marriage, Cécilia Sarkozy bewitched the press on two continents with her bearing and looks that few could resist comparing to Jacqueline Kennedy.
In fact, except for the difference in their ages (Ms. Sarkozy is older by a decade) the two women are in many ways more alike than not, sharing a musical background (a maternal great-grandfather of Ms. Sarkozy was a Spanish composer), close ties to fashion (she was a fitting model at Schiaparelli and one of the witnesses at her wedding to the French president was Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy) and a decidedly relaxed interpretation of the marital pact.
On the record, at least, the Roman Catholic French president himself is a believer in the institution of marriage, despite his highly publicized divorces. The women who attract him are not. Nine months pregnant when she married for the first time, in 1984 to Jacques Martin, Ms. Sarkozy reportedly embarked on an affair with the future French president when he was still married to someone else.
Ms. Bruni, for her part, has said that “love lasts a long time, but burning desire, two or three weeks.” She is monogamous from time to time, as she remarked to the magazine Le Figaro Madame. “But I prefer polygamy and polyandry,” she said.
Still, it isn’t necessarily the couplings and uncouplings and recouplings (and cheesy photo opportunities) that appear to offend so many who have tuned into a story that is less soap opera than Feydeau farce. It is the unspoken sense that it is unseemly for those so materially blessed and genetically gifted to want more.
And it may also be the cheekbones. “People always secretly hate the rich and beautiful,” said Long Nguyen, the editor of Flaunt magazine, which in August ran a pictorial spread of Ms. Bruni that made it look as if, at 40, she may even have managed to give age the slip.
“A has-been or a junkie would have been much easier for people to accept,” Mr. Nguyen said. “It’s not a matter of whether ex-model is a career path for a first lady. It’s that nobody can stand a person who has it all.”