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 year at 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 center 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.
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 realized 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.” You see the bonds on set via the subtle eye contact Vanessa makes with Natalia to 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, the photographer’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 are outside. “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 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. And it’s beautiful. “I never realized,” Natalia tells me later, away from the hullabaloo of the shoot, “what people do know, and don’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.