CELEBRITIES

Soul Sisters

As the saying goes, You can fool the world but not your sister. Photographer Max Vadukul documents 23 famous siblings, and Lynn Hirschberg explains the dynamics of one of the most intimate—and complicated—relationships.


When I was 8 years old, over the Easter holidays my parents announced they were separating. I was stunned, but I shouldn’t have been—the marriage was a mismatch from the start. Before moving out, my father, who didn’t want the divorce, bashed around our house in a kind of primal rage. After he threw a framed photo of my mother against the wall, shattering the glass, he bellowed my name and summoned me into the den. I was terrified. My father specialized in cruel but startlingly insightful pronouncements that were meant to sear, and judging from his darkness and volatility, I expected to be annihilated. At that age, all I craved was my father’s approval, and he was in no mood for kindness. “I want you to make me a promise,” he said, beckoning me to sit next to him on the couch. “I want you to promise to take care of your sister.”

I have never been more relieved by a request. My sister, Robin, is 18 months younger than I am, and she was, and is, my favorite person. Before the divorce, we were close, but my father’s edict—delivered like a sacred oath to be followed for the rest of days—hit me hard. From then on I have felt that I am, above all else, an older sister.

This is not always easy: My sister, like all interesting people, is very ­complicated. Whatever the prevailing fashion demands, Robin has always maintained her own style—when everyone wears black, she wears a bright print. I use this superficial example to illustrate her stubbornness; she doesn’t bend to the rule of the crowd or to me. From her birth on, my sister has always been my greatest source of fascination: Where I was on time, she was late; where I would spend on impulse, she liked to save; where I was shy, she was naturally social. Despite these differences, we are, most important, each other’s witness to the defining moments of life. And to me, that’s what it is to be a sister.

In putting together this portfolio, we aimed to capture the intimate nature of sisters. When the Bush twins were living in the White House as America’s First Children, the world watched them grow up. Although physically and temperamentally different—blonde Jenna seemed to be more like her boisterous father, and brunette Barbara reflected the quieter, more bookish sensibilities of her mother—their closeness was always evident. The Bush girls may have grown up in public, but they always had each other; that relationship is more essential than their eight years in the White House.

A crucial trait of sisterliness is both an ability to appreciate and to ground: If you can’t applaud and tell the truth, you are shirking your responsibilities. In the case of Zoë Saldana and her sisters, Mariel and Cisely—as well as for Robyn, Lori, and Blake Lively—sisters provide both a welcoming audience and constructive criticism. That balancing dynamic extends to the closet: It could be argued that a sense of presentation begins with a sister. Certainly in the case of the Traina, Fendi, and Brandolini girls, style is part of their bond.

But it doesn’t end with borrowed shoes or evening gowns. I’m sure that none of these siblings could imagine life alone. My sister and I may spar about subjects large and small, but we always understand each other. At the root of sisterhood is that shared knowledge, that unique love.

Soul Sisters: Poppy and Cara Delevingne and 21 More

“In my earliest memory of her,” says the actress Julianne Moore (left), 51, of her sister, Valerie (right), 50, “she’s standing in her crib holding out her arms and I’m pulling her out. We’ve always been best friends.” The children of a military judge and a psychiatric social worker, the sisters and their brother, Peter, attended nine different schools during a childhood spent in Nebraska, Alaska, New York, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, and Germany. “A lot of our dinner table conversation was about what we were going through emotionally,” recalls Moore, who next tackles the role of Sarah Palin in Game Change, a forthcoming HBO film. Nowadays, Moore lives in Manhattan, and Wells, a real estate executive, in Northern Virginia. “Whenever I see her, I like to go through her purse,” says Moore. “She’s my sister, so she can go through my stuff, and I can go through hers. We’re also an amazing cleaning team. When I was pregnant with my first child [Caleb, 14], I was feeling overwhelmed and, as a baby-shower present, my sister flew to L.A. to help me clean out my garage. She knew she was the one person who could help me get it done.”

Photographer: Max Vadukul

“Because we’ve had to survive so many things, there’s this special bond that connects us,” says actress Zoë Saldana (center), 33 of her sisters Cisely (left), 32, a producer, and Mariel (right), 34, a nurse. “We were raised in Queens, New York, until my father passed away when I was 9. Our mom, being a single parent, didn’t want us to grow up in a dangerous place, so she moved us to the Dominican Republic, where we stayed with my grandparents. Our mom would live with us there for one year and then spend one year in New York so she could make money to send back home for us. It’s inconceivable for us to be separated. We have to be around each other 24/7.” And she’s not speaking metaphorically: When Zoë moved to L.A. from New York five years ago to pursue her film career (Avatar, Star Trek), her sisters quickly followed her. These days, they live within nine miles of each other. “I’ll text my mom once a day,” says Zoë. “But my sisters? Every 30 minutes we’re on BlackBerry Messenger.”

Photographer: Max Vadukul

“There are eight years between us, so it’s almost like we’re different generations,” says Coco Brandolini d’Adda (right), 32, of her sister Bianca (left), 24. “We didn’t have many childhood moments together.” The daughters of Count Ruy and Countess Georgina Brandolini d’Adda, who worked for Valentino for 20 years, the sisters were steeped in style from their earliest days. Not only did they accompany their mother to Valentino’s shows—“She always worked and traveled,” says Coco. “She wasn’t someone who stayed at home and cooked for us”—but their paternal grandmother, Cristiana, the sister of the late Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli, was a client of Chanel, Grès, and Balenciaga. At 20, Coco moved from their native Paris to New York to work for Oscar de la Renta. Six years later, when she returned, “my sister was this beautiful girl, 18 and so grown-up and much more confident than I was at her age,” she remembers. “It was like we were meeting each other again, and we got really close.”

Photographer: Max Vadukul

“We have a tendency to do everything together,” says Virginie (far left) Courtin-Clarins, 26, of her sister Claire, 24 (far right)—granddaughters of the founder of the Clarins skincare company. “She has an apartment in Paris, and so do I, but she’s always at my place, or I’m at hers. Sometimes she calls me and says, ‘Can I sleep over? I miss you.’ ” Their parents divorced when Virginie was 6 and Claire 4, and the shuttling between homes “is a big reason, I think, why we got so close,” says Virginie. “Also, Claire is my little sister, and sometimes I consider her a bit like my baby. When I don’t know where she is, I worry about her.” Though complementary, the pair, says Virginie, are utterly different in their outlook—and not just because Virginie is an entrepreneur about to start her own beauty company and Claire is a designer who loves to draw. “Claire has a very specific style,” she says. “Sometimes when I go in a store with her and see something that’s maybe too flashy or a bit weird, I just know she will like it.”

Photographer: Max Vadukul

“Our mother grew up in Paris and started taking us to the couture shows when we were really young,” says Vanessa Traina (center), the 26-year-old daughter of romance novelist Danielle Steel. “We’d go with her to Chanel, YSL, and Balmain, when Oscar [de la Renta] was there. She’d put us in matching dresses—we hated it.” Today, though the Traina sisters work in fashion—Samantha (left), 29, as a stylist in Los Angeles; Victoria (right), 28, as a consultant to Proenza Schouler; and Vanessa as a stylist, consultant, and all-round It girl—they continue to share clothes. “We’re a year apart, so we’ve always been interconnected,” says Vanessa, who recalls that as kids in San Francisco, they regularly sat with their mother while she got ready to go out. “We’d just have total girl time with her.” Once roommates at their parents’ legendary house in Pacific Heights, Vanessa and Victoria are now neighbors in Manhattan. “She’s very nurturing,” Vanessa says of Victoria. “We call each other every morning before we head to work.”

Photographer: Max Vadukul

To the Secret Service, Barbara (left) was Turquoise, and Jenna (right) was Twinkle, but the Bush twins, 30, prefer calling each other Sissie. “We go through every stage of our lives at exactly the same age,” says Jenna Bush Hager of her “built-in best friend” Barbara. These days, the two live in Manhattan “one subway stop apart” but prefer to bunk together when they visit their parents in Texas—just as they did when Mom and Dad lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “We had rooms right next to each other,” recalls Jenna, who married Henry Hager, a former aide to Karl Rove in 2008, “but we usually ended up sleeping in my room.” Jenna, a former teacher, is now a correspondent for the Today show, and Barbara heads the nonprofit Global Health Corps. Though the onetime First Sisters joined their father on the campaign trail in 2004—and Barbara came out in favor of gay marriage this past February—“we’re not really political people,” Jenna insists. “We’re interested in policy, not politics.” When we spoke to Jenna, she was on her way to Los Angeles to interview Ozzy Osbourne—though just what she planned to discuss with him, she wouldn’t say. Family values, perhaps?

Photographer: Max Vadukul

“There has always been a little bit of a fight over my mom,” says Delfina Delettrez Fendi (left), 24, a fourth-generation Fendi, of the competition between her and her half sister Leonetta (right), 15, for their mother’s attention. The daughters of Fendi accessories designer Silvia Venturini Fendi, a single parent, the siblings grew up doing their homework in their mother’s atelier in Rome. When, at 19, Delfina had a daughter of her own, her relationship with then 10-year-old Leonetta changed dramatically. “When you become a mother, you’re not so focused on being a daughter,” notes Delfina, a jewelry designer, who created the wigs she and Leonetta are holding here to display her recent collection. “I gave Leonetta my place, in a way. I became more protective of her; there’s not so much jealousy.” It was actually their mother who sparked their now close friendship, which began, fittingly, during Paris fashion week in 2010. “Last year my mother had to go back to Rome early, so she left Leonetta with me for the week. I took her everywhere—we had so much fun.”

Photographer: Max Vadukul

“I quite enjoyed being the youngest daughter and was horrified when this little creature arrived at the house wrapped up like a potato,” recalls London-based model Poppy Delevingne (right), 24, of her sister and flatmate, Cara (left), 18, whose godmother is Joan Collins. “That grew into this insane fascination: I would dress her up, put makeup on her, and teach her every song and dance. She became my little doll.” Poppy even taught her younger sister how to walk in high heels when Cara started modeling a year ago—she’s the face of Burberry’s spring/summer 2011 campaign. The daughters of society fixtures Charles Delevingne and Pandora Stevens, the sisters “have been mothers to each other,” says Poppy, noting that Pandora’s struggles with drug addiction taught them “from a very young age how to take care of ourselves.” Their maturity, however, doesn’t preclude a shared “wacky sense of humor and an ability to sleep for days,” says Poppy. “And we’re both boy crazy; we love boys. We also love dressing up, but we’re so unbelievably messy. Sometimes our bedrooms are barricaded shut because there are clothes everywhere.”

Photographer: Max Vadukul

“I think our biggest sister ritual these days is trying on Louboutins and oohing and aahing together,” says Gossip Girl star Blake Lively (center), 24. Raised in Los Angeles in an acting family—their father is a former Dukes of Hazzard regular, their mother a talent manager—the Lively girls “rarely get much sleep when we’re together,” says the New York–based Blake. “We play dress-up and Ninjas of Destruction, which is a very physical game.” Though she prefers to stay with Robyn (right), an actress, or Lori (left), an acting coach, when she visits L.A., Blake also “reserves a hotel room so that we can all go there to order room service, swim, and jump on the bed.” And practical jokes are also part of the repertoire of this trio, who grew up wearing matching necklaces that read Sisters, Friends Forever. For Mother’s Day one year, Blake impersonated Robyn, posing with her sister’s husband and children for what she calls “a sweet family portrait” that she turned into a greeting card. “I gave the card to Robyn, and it said Happy Mother’s Day From Our Family to Yours. She loved it.”

Photographer: Max Vadukul

“We’re Palestinian, but we’ve never been there,” says Sama Abu Khadra, 18 (right, with her identical twin, Haya). “We were born in Saudi Arabia, moved to London when we were 5, went to high school in Dubai, and now we’re in L.A.” Their mother, Rula, owns the Art of Living designer boutique in Riyadh, and at 15, the twins became the youngest-ever buyers at Paris Fashion Week, scouting showrooms for wares.

Photographer: Max Vadukul
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