Dressed in faded blue jeans and puffing on an e-cigarette, Carla Bruni, the former First Lady of France, appears to have made a smooth transition out of politics. At 45, she has happily returned to her music career; her fourth album Little French Songs came out earlier this year. “I never stopped singing,” she clarifies in her husky purr. “But going back to doing it full-time is wonderful.” The album, which she began in 2011, but put on hiatus when she became pregnant with daughter Giulia, is comprised of simple, capricious pop songs that have surprisingly caused quite a stir in France. Much of the fuss stems from the song “The Penguin,” which seems to poke fun of her husband’s political foe, current president François Hollande. However, it hasn’t hurt sales: a week after being released, the album was second on the music charts in France. On Wednesday, Bruni will perform her first U.S show at The Royalton Hotel in New York, before embarking on a European tour this fall.
When did you get into music? My mother was a pianist and my father was a composer, and they played music all the time. It was like living inside a stereo. Around 9 years old, I was given a guitar. I was never very good at it, but I just needed to be good enough to write my own music. You don’t need technique for writing—that comes from somewhere else. I know hundreds of fantastic guitar players who can’t write.
Where do you write? I have a studio in my house. It’s small, but lovely, with all my stuff in it. It’s actually a great mess. I write there at night when everyone’s gone to bed. There has to be silence.
Did you write songs while you were modeling? Yes, but I never thought of publishing then. It became real when I did my first album, Quelqu’un M’a Dit in 2003. Just like when you print something—before you print it, it’s yours. But after it’s printed, it becomes the world’s.
Did it make you nervous to put your music out there? Not really. You have to face reality and your own mediocrity. You can work from something that you started. Even if you’re not happy about it, you can improve it. But if you never start, what can you improve?
Your music sounds so much stronger and more assured than it did a decade ago. Yes, I got older. I was really shy when I was young, even though I wasn’t all that young when I made my first album. I was 35. There are people who are very talented very young. I’m not one of them. But you have to go at your own pace.
So you like getting older? I don’t mind. Anyway there’s no choice. Physically, I prefer to be young. You can eat whatever, drink whatever, get no sleep, and you still have more energy. But of course, there are advantages to getting older. You are wiser and take greater pleasure in living. It’s banal to say, but you appreciate life more. I had a great discussion recently with the writer Michel Houellebecq. He was saying he’s not worried about getting old, he’s just sad about not being young. I agree.
How has being First Lady affected your music? In general, you get inspired by what you live, and that was such a special situation. But I haven’t used it yet for inspiration. I write love songs, but that’s about my man, rather than the former president. I never thought of that when I wrote, because I only write from emotion— love, sadness, anxiety.
So there are no hidden meanings to your songs, as many have suggested? The meanings are clear. There’s nothing to search for.
Aside from music, you’ve also returned to modeling—you’re the new face of Bulgari. At my age, I wouldn’t call it modeling. It’s posing for pictures. And this was a special project. I feel quite connected to the brand. The Italian aspect, the Diva collection from years ago, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton… It brings me back to my parents’ time, when everything was beautiful and people dressed in haute couture. I remember my parents coming down in the summertime for cocktails and they would be dressed up. Now we come barefoot, still in our swimsuits.
Have you thought about what you will wear on tour? I’m thinking a suit. A dark, classic, sexy suit, with flat men’s shoes. No heels, no complication. I want to be comfortable, but still elegant. And I don’t like to have my arms out on stage, because you never know with the light. I have so many good designer friends, but I haven’t decided yet who I’ll ask.