Activist, Advocate, Ambassador: Supermodel Cindy Bruna is More Than Meets The Eye
The newest L'Oréal International Spokesperson is our September issue cover star.
FASHION X L'Oréal Paris
With pandemic restrictions in effect as part of the COVID-19-era new normal, FASHION had to adapt on the fly for our cover shoot with L’Oréal Paris, which was shot in Paris back in July. Our creative and fashion director tuned in virtually from Toronto to oversee the production, and makeup icon Val Garland sketched looks from her London studio, which were later applied to the images of model Cindy Bruna digitally using L’Oréal Paris’s Virtual Try-On tool. Click here to try the looks on yourself and discover the products used to create each of the looks behind the cover image below.
“Have you seen the shots? I’m so excited to see them! I had such a great day,” says an upbeat and endearing Cindy Bruna on the phone from Paris. The French modelling star, who was tapped by L’Oréal Paris as an international spokesperson earlier this year, is talking to me about our unusual cover shoot in partnership with the beauty juggernaut.
In the face of COVID-19, Bruna posed up inside Paris’s Nolinski hotel for a solid nine-plus hours—all while social distancing from the rest of the tiny team who were allowed on-set. Strict pandemic measures also meant that her makeup was completely digital. But Bruna is no stranger to outside-the-box situations: She has stood on the edge of a cliff, plunged into frigid water and lain in the snow (with not much clothing on).
Ranked a “Money Girl” on Models.com alongside Bella Hadid, Hailey Bieber and Kendall Jenner, Bruna hit many major milestones early in her career. On her very first job casting, the late legendary couturier Azzedine Alaïa took Bruna under his wing. “He gave me the opportunity to work for him at his showroom; meeting him really made me want to do this job,” says the 25-year-old, who was scouted at the age of 16 in the South of France and made regular trips to Paris with her mother during school holidays.
At 18, Bruna made the big move to the City of Light to pursue modelling full-time and wound up in New York shortly after for her New York Fashion Week debut. The gig: to walk exclusively for Calvin Klein.
In the modelling world, landing an exclusive has been known to put runway newbies on the map. But Bruna’s 2012 booking morphed into something much greater: It marked a watershed moment for diversity in the fashion industry with Bruna becoming the house’s first model of colour to walk exclusively, which meant she couldn’t be booked for any other New York designers that season. “At the time, I didn’t even know that I was the first to get it,” says Bruna. “I just couldn’t believe the opportunity; it was my first time working in New York. Looking back, I didn’t truly realize the weight of it.”
The experience launched Bruna into the supermodel stratosphere. “It changed my life and career,” she says. In the span of a few months, Bruna was shot by photographer Steven Meisel for the cover of Italian Vogue and earned her wings as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, which she held on to for a steady six seasons. She also became part of the core group of models that make up Olivier Rousteing’s fierce female posse, known as the Balmain Army.
When asked if any one achievement tops her list of proudest moments, Bruna is quick to say no. “I’m very proud of the whole process,” she says. “When I first started, I was full of doubt. I was scared. I didn’t know that I would have to leave my family to go to Paris and then New York. I didn’t speak English. All of that could have stopped me, but I was like, ‘You know what? Just go for it.’”
Overcoming fear can be incredibly tough when navigating an industry that is rife with rejection. “You are constantly judged, compared and not chosen, which can be difficult,” shares Bruna. “I have cried many times about this.” The biggest piece of advice she’d tell her younger self? Don’t take it personally: “Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. You’re not what they’re looking for, and that’s OK. Don’t change. Be yourself. The right job will come.”
That self-appreciation mindset is what makes Bruna such an inspired choice for a megabrand with a “Because I’m worth it” ethos. “It’s really a slogan that talks to everybody,” she says. “In my job, it’s all about embracing you and being proud of yourself. Everybody is special. We all have value.” How does this model tap into her unique self? By fully loving her biracial identity.
The daughter of an Italian father and Congolese mother, Bruna says that being mixed race is her superpower. “I feel like it’s really a strength to have both cultures that I can learn from and grow from,” she says. “My mom raised me with African values around family and sharing how the world can be difficult for people of colour. I grew up eating African dishes and listening to African music. I share so much of my dad’s respect for others and for nature. I feel like I gained so much from both of them.”
As for joining the L’Oréal Paris family, it’s a gig Bruna does not take lightly. “I realize that it is a responsibility,” she notes. “I want to give not only my face but also my voice to everything we’re doing together.” It’s a voice she’s used time and again as a bridge for others who need one.
Bruna has used her visibility and social media clout to advocate for the inclusion of more faces of colour on the runways as well as to speak up about the all-too-common hair discrimination that occurs behind the scenes at shows and shoots with afro-textured hair. “To have been the first woman of colour to work on a Calvin Klein exclusive back in 2012 just made me realize how much we have to push to bring change to the industry,” she says. “Yes, things have evolved since then, but we can still do more.” And the needle shouldn’t stop at a colourful array of models on catwalks and in campaigns. “It’s also about walking on-set and seeing people behind the scenes, like stylists and photographers, of different backgrounds.”
Another topic that gets Bruna fired up is domestic violence against women. “One woman is killed every three days in France,” she states. “It’s a crisis that’s happening all over the world, and I really think that we can be part of the solution.”
Three years ago, Bruna joined Solidarité Femmes, a French network of associations specializing in the reception, support and accommodation of women facing abuse, and is quick to concede that she had a lot to learn when she first began. “It took me at least a year to really understand just how diverse domestic abuse is: The violence happens in so many forms,” she says. “I didn’t even talk about Solidarité Femmes on social media or anything at first. I was just visiting shelters in Paris, talking to women and learning about what the associations were doing.”
Now, Bruna’s passion to help end violence against women has seamlessly extended to her new post at L’Oréal Paris, with her joining the advocating team for Stand Up Against Street Harassment, the brand’s training program with the goal of eradicating gender-based street harassment. “L’Oréal Paris has always encouraged women to live according to their own rules, but street harassment goes against that,” says Bruna. “I feel like Stand Up can help people know how to react if they see or experience harassment. It really invites women and men to learn. It’s about educating people—myself included.”
As our phone conversation winds down, I catch myself feeling empowered and inspired by Bruna’s words and conclude that her strong sense of self totally matches the expressions and moods she elegantly delivered in our cover shoot. “She’s a real one,” I say in my head, before thanking her for being so open with me. “No, thank you!” she immediately responds. “I really can’t wait to see the pictures!”
Try on these beauty looks
Learn about all the L’Oréal Paris products that Val Garland used for Bruna’s FASHION cover shoot and virtually try on each makeup look by scanning this QR code.
Art direction by JACQUES BURGA. Styling by MICKAEL CARPIN. Creative direction by GEORGE ANTONOPOULOS. Makeup by VAL GARLAND, L’Oréal Paris global makeup director. Hair by ALEXANDRINE PIEL. Photography assistant: CLAUDIA REVIDAT. Post-production: LUCY LU. Shot on location at the NOLINSKI HOTEL in Paris.