Natalia Bryant, Daughter and Dreamer, is ready to take on the world | Sunday Observer

Natalia Bryant, Daughter and Dreamer, is ready to take on the world

24 October, 2021

You see her. You cannot miss her. Natalia Bryant is near six feet tall and moves with the certainty of a born and bred California girl who came this close to pursuing college volleyball. She’s used to sunny days, and sand between her toes.

The eldest child of Vanessa and Kobe Bryant is self-possessed and long-limbed and jet-haired and we are all here for her. This bright July morning we’re on set at a Brentwood Spanish-style villa on a lot perfect for pool parties and high-society hijinks. Natalia’s grin is uncoded. She smiles with the baked-in confidence of one who is profoundly sure of her family’s love.

“Heeyy!” That’s the energy, with a bounce in her walk, and to just about everyone. “Thank you so much for being here!”

Just east enough of Palisades to catch a Pacific breeze, this palace was built for the makers of American cinema’s so- called Golden Age, the old-school film studio lifers who intentionally created the kind of soulful extravaganza that houses this photo shoot. Natalia, 18, has just signed with IMG Models. She’s also set to register for her freshman yearat the University of Southern California where she will major in film, and she has 2.7 million Instagram followers.

Eighteen is an obsessive, dreamy age, and the mood in Brentwood is blue butterflies and pure possibility. Natalia is centre stage in a fuschia Alejandra Alonso Rojas sheath and flat black faux-leather Proenza Schouler boots, the ones that ease softly as lambskin, just over the knee. Creating Natalia’s portraits is the Bronx’s own Raven B. Varona aka RavieB — meticulous, charismatic — famous for the illuminating shots of Beyoncé and Jay Z on their 2018 On The Run II world tour. Natalia’s mother, Vanessa Bryant, low-key and alert, watches her oldest being watched. Bianka Bella, 4,and Capri Kobe, 2, Natalia’s baby sisters, zigzag the terrace in jelly ballet flats. The girls are thrilled about the Ring Pops on set, and the hummingbirds, which are everywhere.

First major photo shoot

This is Natalia’s first major photo shoot and profile — she’s fully aware that she has been more seen than heard. “One time this person was TikToking me or something,” she tells me. “I was talking. And [after], I was going through comments, which everyone does. Someone commented, ‘this is the first time I ever heard your voice.’ I never even realised that. You always see a face, but it’s hard to … think of a voice behind that face.”

Beneath the effervescence of this day is the tragedy of Natalia’s father Kobe Bryant and younger sister Gianna Bryant dying on January 26, 2020. It was a week after Natalia’s 17th birthday. “I’m very loyal to the people that I love,” she says. “Loyalty is an important value. Just … understanding your loyalty. You’re not just loyal for no reason.” When she says “loyalty,” I hear “family devotion.”

Black and brown girlhood

You see the bonds on set via the subtle eye contact Vanessa makes with Nataliato loosen up in poses. You see Natalia, between takes, checking in on her sisters. The Bryants, a famously insular unit,have been cut down by two. An energy emanating from Natalia and Vanessa is that they will not lose another.

Nor will they play down Black and brown girlhood and its celebrations. From the speakers on set is Brandy’s 1994 I Wanna Be Down. It’s Brandy’s first single ever, a huge hit recorded when she was 14. This serendipity floats under Natalia’s delight in her deeply modified al fresco debut. It’s a sign of life in brutal times. In fact, all of us — Natalia, thephotographer’s crew, the stylists, the editors — are delirious with post-quarantine-life freedom. This is that ten minutes of summer 2021 when it looked like the pandemic might peter out. We are working and we are giggly, and we areoutside. “I’m an outgoing introvert,” Natalia tells me. “I love talking to people... but part of me is such a homebody.”

Part of the reason she is a homebody is that she likes her parents. “I do,” she says. “They’re fun.” The strong line between them, though, is lengthening. Vanessa declines formal comment for this story saying, as she watches Natalia’s adventure, that this moment is about, and she nods toward her eldest, “her.” Mother and daughter are just 20 years apart.

Natalia says that she has vague memories of it just being she, her mom, and her dad. “I had,” she tells me, “that three-year space.” Natalia also unselfconsciously talks about her late sister Gianna in the present tense. It’s heartbreaking. It is beautiful. “I never realised,” Natalia tells me later, away from the hullabaloo of the shoot, “what people do know, anddon’t know, about me.”

My niece Parker, 19, follows Natalia. Parker attended a well-known and arty independent high school in California.

Natalia and Parker, both speak about themselves with ease. They both have deeply attentive, stylish mothers.

“I love her style,” is what Parker says about Natalia. “It’s classy and chic, and modern.” And in fact, when I meet Natalia at a café in Newport Beach a couple of weeks after the Brentwood shoot, her grey smock maxi dress is perfectly yet offhandedly on-trend. “She’s not just jeans and sneaks,” Parker tells me candidly, “It’s not her at-ing sponsors. Natalia has followers because she’s pretty and because of nepotism … I like her because I don’t feel like she’s fake.”

‘Charmed’ is probably the best way to describe much of Natalia’s life. She went to two prestigious private schools seven minutes apart just outside of Los Angeles, so she’s known a bunch of her friends since kindergarten. Sage Hill High School alumni are known for landing on Forbes’ 30 Under 30. Stanford and UC Irvine men’s water polo teams have used Sage Hill’s Olympic-sized pool for scrimmages. Natalia’s IG features cheerful check-ins from Capri, St. Tropez, and southern Croatia, from the lip of the Adriatic Sea. Her family is tight with La La Anthony and Ciara’s families. Pau Gasol is like a godfather to her and her sisters.

Bonding with father

Just Nani’s love of films stems from time spent bonding with her father. Natalia recalls a particular midnight showing of 2019’s Rise of Skywalker. On the car ride back, she asked to watch the entirety of the franchise —  at home, on the same night. “He was just like the best girl dad ever. He was just letting me play my playlist and jam out to Taylor Swift the whole ride back, and talk about Star Wars too. It was so much fun.” But their intergalactic rabbit hole ended sooner than planned, “I fell asleep during the first half of the [first] movie.”

It’s easy to worry about her, talking about her father. Especially since Skywalker was released just a month before the fatal accident. But Natalia is on a healing journey. “I love talking about my dad,” she says. “It's bittersweet, but I enjoy talking about him more than its sad for me.”

On matters of the spirit, Natalia — that tall Blaxican girl from Orange County with the familiar smile — is wiser than many grown folks. “It’s so relaxing,” she says about skiing, which she has experienced with her family, all of her life.

“You go down the mountain, down different trails. I can’t say that I haven’t [crashed into trees]. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But it’s just so relaxing to me. You get space … you get to clear your mind, and you don’t think about anything.You think about what you’re doing in the moment. It’s about being present. Which I love.”

Do you see Natalia? As she travels into adulthood? The wind is at her back. You can’t miss her..

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