30 August 2008

Paris Chic: Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

I've just delighted in reading Vanity Fair's article on Carla Bruni, wife to French president Nicolas Sarkozy. For many it's seems strange that this archetype of French bohemian chic has become Madame Sarkozy and married into the very heart of the French establishment. She has been labelled the new Jackie O, but whether the American First Lady’s passion for ballet compares with Carla warbling “You are my dope” on her new album is open to debate.

The presence of this Italian heiress/90s supermodel/folk songwriter at the Élysée Palace in Paris has created scandalous uproar in French society. Carla was born an Italian - apparently contemptuous of traditional bourgeois morality. Furthermore, in the past the eligible women for political leaders fell into two categories: wife or mistress. The more controversial creatures fell into the latter category. It is wonderful to see the shackles of the past have been shattered, because today the likes of Diane de Poitiers, or trilling Madame de Pompadour wouldn't have to lurk in the background. Gone are the days of the passive and pleasing Madame de Gaulle. Carla embodies a gloriously post-modern phenomenon: First Lady as über mannequin/mythic sexual adventuress. Glorious.

It's hard to ignore her intriguing past. Famous men were desperate to be with Carla. Some succeeded. Eric Clapton wrote in his memoirs about falling madly in love with Carla and how he begged Mick Jagger not to steal her. Mick did anyway, and become her on-off lover for years. Meanwhile, Carla has other romances including several American billionaires, famous French philosophers and also the former French Socialist prime minister.

She told one reporter:
"I bore myself silly with monogamy. I prefer polygamy and polyandry."
And she herself once declared:
“There are two kinds of women – those who want power in the world and those who want power in bed.”
Is that were Sarkozy comes into the picture?

There still lingers a public dislike President Sarkozy for the moment, as claims rise that he cares more for billionaires and celebrities than running the country. On the other hand, I admire his courage for saying au revoir to the rules of French establishment. Obviously there is more to this situation than meets the eye, more than the cynical headline "Feline man-tamer conquers President Bling-Bling". Maybe there's an element of dare I say love? How very French.

After all, she is adorable with those high cheekbones, porcelain skin and feline gaze. Her music is superb and rather infectious. Her lyrics draw on reference to Keats, Dickinson, Auden and Dorothy Parker. She is educated and thoughtful, and once in the late 90s when asked to outline her philosophical beliefs, she stated that she's an agnostic, a Nietzchean materialist who believes in free will rather than destiny. At the time she was with French philosopher and father of her child Raphaél Enthoven. She added:
"I think the intellect must consider the instincts. In our impulses, there are things we'd rather not have: we'd rather not be envious, or jealous, or dominate others, or take everything. But for me, the natural human instinct is an impulse towards possession, an animal impulse. And I think there are lots of supposedly intellectual people who never consider this point, because they don't want to recognise it in themselves. And in that case, they're not so intelligent after all. Me, I've got lots of low impulses. Lots! Like everybody. You have to accept the difficulties, the suffering of life."

Indeed, Carla has lived many lives. It has been said that:
“She’s a kind of alpha female. She was never a courtesan like Pamela Harriman—she was more like a female Don Juan.”
Easily said when Pamela Harriman had to deal with the reality of harsh critics, while Don Juan was protected in the whimsical life of fiction.

Carla Bruni is no stranger to privilege. In the opening scene of her sister Valeria’s semi-autobiographical film, It’s Easier for a Camel … , the female protagonist goes to church to confess, “I am rich—I am very, very rich.” Carla is the heiress of an Italian tyre-manufacturing company. As well as being a staunch capitalist, her father Alberto Bruni-Tedeschi was also a dodecaphonic composer and fervent art collector. He bought houses to fill them up with treasures, in Paris, Rambouillet, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Cap Nègre and Rome. Her extroverted mother Marisa was a concert pianist. The family moved to Paris in the 70s for security reasons, after a surge in kidnappings of wealthy industrialists and their heirs.

Later Carla went to a Swiss finishing school before returning to Paris to study architecture. Longing for independence from her parents, she then traded up for a meteoric career in front of the camera. The rest is history.

I think that she is definitely a positive addition to Élysée Palace. Karl Lagerfeld has said:
“She’s imaginative, clever, educated. She knows how to behave”
Designer Jean Paul Gaultier agrees:
“She’s clever, super well educated, and very focused. She is like the heroine of a book or a movie.”
One can't deny that the French first lady seems to have handled the situation with as much style as she has in her wardrobe.