Remember the scene when Marcello Mastroianni frolics with Anita Ekberg in the fountain in Fellini's La Dolce Vita? I had this premonition that I would reenact that scene NYC-style with Ã¼ber model Gisele in the fountains at The Plaza. Once she saw how charming and witty I am, she would be ready to be whisked away from the assembled paparazzi. And for me, even though I am happily married, it would be the struggle between truth and beauty, the cynicism of hedonism or lack of it, and the value that the West places on youth and maintaining a youthful appearance even into old age. (Truth be told, I am nearly old enough to be her father.)
Yes, the beauty of a woman can be intimidating. Not only for men, but women alike. As I pondered my lunch date with one of the most beautiful women in the world I had to consider what God had intended when he made the mold for Ms. Gisele Bundchen. Did He make a mold for â€œmodels onlyâ€ and every few years let one slip into our universe to fully ripen and then awaken our slumbering senses in an attempt to inspire and delight?
And isn't it ironic that I would be meeting this beauty hiding behind the press campaign of the launch of Vogue sunglasses at an arranged European press junket luncheon? (I was covering for my friend Silvia's Milan-based magazine Grazia Italia, a People-like weekly.) I prayed she wouldn't be concealing her eyes, let alone any aspect of her natural god-given assets.
As I rode the â€œCâ€ train down to my rendezvous with fate, I had to rewrite my questions on the back of a â€œwet paintâ€ sign that I took off of a dry subway column. Iâ€™d foolishly left my computer printout questions on my desktop. I was nervous. Why? I donâ€™t know. Iâ€™ve met plenty of beautiful people in the world of show business and Gisele was just another pretty face. Who cares she was being exploited to draw both envy and inspiration. I even shaved and wore my very expensive black imported sunglasses (Cutler & Gross) and black sport coat (Kevin K). I wanted to be Marcello, not Dusty Wright, 2nd generation Italian-American, born in Akron, Ohio.
As I sat waiting for my train, I examined my memory banks. What do we know privately of this statuesque beauty? Not much other than typical fodder produced by the gossipmongers in periodicals. Until late last year she was romantically involved with actor Leonardo DiCaprio (stupid bastard). At one time they had even considered children. (Was that true? That would be a good question to ask, perhaps when we sneak away from the luncheon and grab a cab to the Plaza.) Even actor Josh Harnett was a paramour, along with male model Scott Barnhill, Brazilian tycoon Joao Paulo Diniz, and hotel mogul Vikram Chatwal.
Now sheâ€™s romantically linked with world famous surfer Kelly Slater. (Lucky bastard.) I pray heâ€™s not in town when I make my move.
This we do know for fact: She was born on July 20, 1980 in Tres de Maio near Horizontina, Rio Grande du Sul, Brazil, Ms. Gisele Bundchen is of German descent. She is one of six sisters - Raquel, Rafaela, Graziela, Gabriela, and Patricia (who is her fraternal twin). She was â€œdiscoveredâ€ eating a Big Mac at McDonaldâ€™s. As a teen she moved to New York to really strut her stuff. It didnâ€™t take long for the fashion houses to fall in love with â€œthe body,â€ as she would become known. Dolce & Gabbana would use her to open and close their runway shows. In 1998 she made the cover of Vogue America and never looked back. In 1999, she was â€œModel of the Yearâ€. In 2000, she became the body for undergarment giant Victoria Secrets and made the cover of Rolling Stone, only the fourth model to ever grace the cover of this pop culture magazine.
As an actress â€“ why do models insist on acting? â€“ she appeared in the very underwhelming movie Taxi, perhaps one of her few bumps in the road towards international icon status. She owns her line of flip-flop footwear in Brazil and is very charitable with her income. Recently, she's become very selective about with who and when she will work/model. I suspect money might have some bearing.
If Ms. Bundchen represents the â€œreturn of the sexy model,â€ then I'm all for it. Let's do away with waif models forever. Women in real life are never so skinny or so shallow-looking. Clothes should fit your body, not fall off of it while you walk down the street. Vikings love women with curves.
Thankfully, Gisele has no such waifish trauma in her day-to-day life. She looks spectacular with or without clothes, as her numerous magazine covers and photo shoots will attest. One Google photo search will leave you with numerous visual testimonials to back that claim. But how would she be dressed for the fawning fashionista journalists who would be waiting for her? Would she be illuminating? High-style? Low-key? In between?
The train finally pulled into the 14th Street station and I hustled to the hotel. I didnâ€™t want to be â€œfashionably lateâ€ as this was her event, not mine, arranged by the press corps of Vogue Eyewear Company out of Milan.
According to their press release: "The 2006 launch campaign GISELE PLAYS WITH VOGUE interprets the playful mood of its own target: fashion lovers. Sunglasses become part of their fashionable attitude: an aesthetical, decorative and hedonistic object beyond its basic functional role."
La Dolce Vita indeed.
After finally arriving at the very elegant Ono restaurant in Gansevoort Hotel in the Meat Packing district of the West Village -- not "Soho" as the invitation so erroneously read -- I was ushered to my table with several other Spanish and Portuguese journalists. All were women who either worked for Elle or other big fashion magazines. In fact, as I looked around the room most of the women journalists had been flown in from Europe to New York and put up at this trendy new hotel to cover this groundbreaking event. There were only a handful of men, and whether they were straight men I couldnâ€™t be sure.
One of the press corps gals checked me in and informed me that I would be in the â€œsecondâ€ group of journalists to sit with Ms. Bundchen. We would have about 15 minutes total. What? I needed at least 40 minutes so I could understand how one of the worldâ€™s most recognized human beings can possibly find any breathing room, sanity, and - more importantly - solitude in her life. Moreover, I couldn't make my move in such a short period of time.
I quickly learned from the cute Spanish woman next to me that I had missed the dinner the evening before. I was unaware of such a meal and hoped that I hadnâ€™t missed any juicy Gisele tidbits that might illuminate the readers of this piece into the real â€œbehind-the-scenesâ€ world of a supermodel. You see, after Christy and Naomi and Claudia and Kate, there was a gap in that world and a new face and body was needed. Thankfully, Gisele has filled out that gap gorgeously.
I took my seat at the table and waited for her to enter. I looked at my scribbled questions again.
Finally she entered the room and everyone stopped and stared. She was wearing some trendy pair of blue jeans and a simple retro style blouse unbuttoned to reveal just enough of her famous bosom. Thankfully her Vogue sunglasses were positioned on top of her head. She waved and said â€œhelloâ€ and took her seat near the staircase, I suspect to ensure a quick-and-easy exit when she was finished. She seemed taller in person, or maybe I was shrinking. Who could be sure?
I paced. I took a phone call from a friend who needed help with his iPod. I couldnâ€™t offer any assistance. I was distracted. Then it was time. I was ushered over to her table. She was at the buffet table helping herself to some roast chicken, pasta, and salad. She asked, â€œCan I eat and talk at the same time? I have to eat now because I will not have time later.â€ You can smoke, if need be, although I read that sheâ€™d quit.
I decided to sit next to her, to be so close that I could examine her soul; look through her blue eyes. I would be able to tell if she was being honest. I would be her lie detector test. I would also get to ask the first question and, I hoped, steer my fellow journalists down a path they might not typically journey when writing about fashion trendsetters and victims.
She came over with her healthy plate of food and I introduced myself. We shook hands and I stared through her soul. I was no longer nervous. In fact, she seemed quite ordinary and didnâ€™t feel intimidating at all. She had a relaxed and easygoing manner. I felt I was a man in control of his own destiny. Or perhaps she made me feel like I was in control. She smiled and took her seat.
I wanted to know about the little blue star tattooed on her left inside wrist. What is the significance? Why not a picture of the Virgin Mary?
â€œWhy would I put something like that on my arm?â€ She laughed, looking right through me, and then the other journalists. I stared back. I knew that I had her.
I explained that many people attach symbolism to their tattoos. I wanted her to share with us the significance.
â€œI got it when I moved to New York City. My grandmother told me when I was a kid that each of us has a star. You look to the sky and the one that catches your eye is your star. Each child, each person, has their own star. We are all stars and we are all special. And you look to your star when you need something. I remember when I first came to New York City I would look to sky every night. But of course in New York you canâ€™t find any stars. There are none to be found in the night sky. So one day I made a drawing of my star on my wrist because I wanted to be able to find it. I didnâ€™t put it on my back or any place I couldnâ€™t see it. And it has three veins running through so itâ€™s like a shooting star. I did it when I moved to America, so Iâ€™ve had for nine or ten years now. So thatâ€™s the meaning of it.â€
I tell her that was a sweet story. The woman from Spanish Elle has her notes out and I can tell sheâ€™s going to be fighting me for question space. She wants to know about her relationship with the fashion houses because sheâ€™s not doing that much modeling these days.
â€œI feel like in order for me to keep things exciting that if I was doing as much as I was before, I wouldnâ€™t want to do any of it anymore at all. You go through different phases in your life. First you have to do a lot, because I was just starting out. I had to try everything. I had to prove myself. But once youâ€™ve done that for a while, you need to be more selective. I need to find those jobs that are going to make me feel excited in some way. So I have to chose those jobs that are going to keep me excited.â€
I wonder to myself: I thought your boyfriend was supposed to keep you excited. I can see how modeling products for thousands of dollars an hour can lose its appeal once youâ€™ve done it three or four times. Perhaps she should have to work a real job from 9-5 for a very minimum salary to see how the rest of the world feels about being excited on the job.
But what kind of job is that special that it can make you feel like working?
â€œFor me it would be a special editorial, or working with a photographer I might not have worked with before. Or one that Iâ€™ve always wanted to work with. Someone that I think is really artistic and really amazing. Vogue was very fun because the sunglasses had a different look to them. I was trying to make the joints on sunglasses come to life in a different way. So that was fun. It wasnâ€™t the typical picture that you stand there looking just like yourself.â€
Well, it would stand to reason that if youâ€™re wearing sunglasses to begin with youâ€™re not going to look like yourself. Youâ€™re going to look either cool, silly, hiding out, crazy, or another human emotion one might attribute to wearing designer sunglasses.
Gisele goes on to add that she feels lucky to be able to choose the projects she wants to be involved in, and doubts sheâ€™ll be able to demand a much higher price tag for taking that position. As she explains it, â€œChoosing who I want be involved with, who I want to work with, keeps my job exciting and makes we want to keep doing it. Plus I want to work with someone that I can have fun with and someone that I trust. I donâ€™t ever want to feel like I shouldnâ€™t be doing it. So if Iâ€™m very selective then I donâ€™t have to worry about that.â€
The woman from Spanish Elle wants to know what photographers Gisele would most like to work with, or has she worked with all of them already?
â€œIâ€™ve worked with every photographer Iâ€™ve ever wanted to work with. Maybe I should have worked more with Avedon when he was alive. I worked with (Irving) Penn the other day and he was amazing. Heâ€™s ninety and he has such a different way of working. He has backdrops that are older than me that heâ€™s been using 40 or 50 years. So I feel very lucky about being able to pick and chose who I want to work with.â€
I want to know what is the biggest misconception about her, but before I can get my question in, Ms. Spanish Elle has already asked yet another question about her charities. Ms. Bundchen explains that childrenâ€™s charities are very special to her and that she takes a portion of her salary each year and makes sure that sheâ€™s giving to charities that really use the money for the victims rather than padding their own bank accounts. Three years earlier with her old beau Leonardo, she designed a platinum-and-diamond necklace that sold for $1000 each (a limited edition of only 50) with the money going towards St. Jude Childrenâ€™s Research Hospital for cancer treatment. She had lost both of her grandmothers to cancer.
â€œI think itâ€™s important to help the children and to know where the money is being spent.â€
I want to ask her about her portrayal as sex symbol for certain brands and whether or not that is good for the self-esteem of young teenage girls all over the world, but instead I temper it by asking her what she thinks of the television show Americaâ€™s Next Top Model. Is it good for young teenage girls?
â€œI think American television is silly. All of these reality shows are so ridiculous. I watched one episode of that show and I had to turn it off. It was so unrealistic and so dramatic for the sake of being dramatic. None of the models I know ever acted like that. All of these channels on American television and there is so little I care to watch. Even the news seems to be distorted.â€
Yes, I agree. I tell her and the other European journalists at our table that I feel like much of American reality television programming is hyper-reality. That somehow weâ€™ve managed to create all of these shows that take a hyper-extended view of relationships between people. Plus many of the people featured in these shows are making these situations more dramatic than it is in real life. They are playing to the camera and toying with peopleâ€™s minds.
I want to ask her about her new boyfriend and I know many people are dying to know who is a better â€œvolleyballâ€ player, actor Leonardo or professional surfer Kelly (Slater)?
I want to ask her about the fantastic Brazilian singers such as Caetano Velosa, Gilberto Gil, Bebel Gilberto. And what she reads. Or does she do yoga to unwind from all of her busy? Or what does she read before bed? Actually I get to ask her how she unwinds, and sometimes it is reading before bed, â€œalthough it can take me a very long time to finish one novel. I might only read five pages at a time and then fall asleep, so it might take me a very long time to finish a book. Yoga and stretching are very important, too. And meditation helps me to unwind.â€
I want to tell her that I too meditate and I too do yoga; Kundalini yoga. I wonder if she will run away with me to a yoga retreat in Belize or Costa Rica. Then I realize that might be a small problem because I have to pick up my daughter after school. Maybe we jump on a slow boat to China after the party later.
And I never get to ask her any tough questions. I never get to ask her what's her favorite seduction tactic? Does she strut around for her lover in her Victoriaâ€™s Secret lingerie? I bet she wears La Perla.
I wonder if she ever feels guilty about being so young and so wealthy just because of her beauty? Or if she has any advice for the next group of young girls entering the modeling profession? Or how she would like to be remembered? But sheâ€™d told our little group that she cannot think that far ahead. â€œI need to live life day to day. I am still so young and there are so many things left to do.â€
Before I can really get out my difficult questions, the next group of writers is hovering over us, waiting for their turn, hoping for enchantment.
Gisele thanks us for our questions. I shake her hand again and feel rather empty, like Iâ€™ve interviewed just another celebrity promoting just another product no one really needs. And more importantly, while the rest of the world struggles to survive it seems so rather pointless and so shamefully distasteful. At least her endorserâ€™s sunglasses remained perched on her head during the entire 12-minute interview session.
Brazilian superstar model Gisele Bundchen was tall, pleasant, very pretty and sincere; not unlike any other tall, pleasant, pretty, and sincere model you might meet at a dinner party or trendy new club in Chelsea or a hot restaurant in the Meat Packing District. I guess reality had sunk in. I was resigned to live out my fantasy with Gisele in my head. It would never work. I could never replace a camera lens. I could never make her see the beauty of the night sky in New York even without any twinkling stars, with or without her Vogue sunglasses.
She finally left the room and I ate my lunch laughing with the women journalists around me at the absurdity of it all. Perhaps our paths would cross again and we would talk of things of importanceâ€”the frailty of life, the political instabilities around the globe, the environment, and how a multi-millionaire model might use her face to heal a world. But probably not...
In the end I was left with La Dolce Vita through rose-colored glasses.
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!