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Stephanie : Her Serene Highness Prefers Swim Togs to Tiaras

April 11, 1986|PADDY CALISTRO

Stephanie (as Her Serene Highness Princess Stephanie Marie Elizabeth of Monaco chooses to be called) forgoes her royal title, eschews curtsies from commoners whenever possible, dons tiaras rarely, and, as she has said on many occasions, prefers to be accepted as "an ordinary girl."

In quest of ordinary, the impetuous princess has cut a rock record, danced and romanced with some of the world's most eligible bachelors, modeled swimsuits in less-than-princessly poses (reportedly for as much as $10,000 a day) and has even been caught sunbathing topless by relentless paparazzi.

Though noble eyebrows have raised over her activities, the world's aristocracy (including her daddy, Prince Rainier III) heaved a sigh of royal relief when Stephanie channeled her seemingly endless energies to a creative direction: designing a line of avant-garde, tres racy swimsuits.

On Friday, the 21-year-old royal flew to Los Angeles for the West Coast launch of her Pool Position swimwear line at Bullock's, Beverly Center. Wearing ordinary Levi's, unprincess-like black cowboy boots, a green leather jacket, and with six Louis Vuitton suitcases plus a Mickey Mouse duffel bag in tow, an exhausted Stephanie arrived at LAX. She had had a long string of flights, city-hopping in Europe to promote her hit record and then here to show off her swimsuit designs.

Though she had been up and down in airplanes for 27 hours, she still had enough energy to boogie when she heard a boom box blaring in the airport.

Cut to Bullock's, Beverly Center, where the line to meet Stephanie is 350 people long, and another 350 or more are pushing and shoving to just get a glimpse of a real princess.

There were many reasons for waiting to see Stephanie:

To Stacey Levitt, age 5, of Los Angeles, the whole point of seeing a princess is "because she's beautiful."

Paul Cosman of Los Angeles wanted to see her "because she's royalty and she's tall, like my daughter."

Guido Grimaldi of Long Beach hoped that they were related.

Angela Kim of Hacienda Heights said the wait was worth it because Stephanie "was in Elle magazine, plus she's royalty and she's Grace Kelly's daughter--we don't have any royalty here."

No one said they were there to see the swimsuits.

Pamela Brand of Los Angeles didn't wait in line: "She doesn't look like a princess--in fact, she looks pretty normal. This doesn't seem like a very princessy thing to do."

One disappointed man hurried away, muttering: "I thought she was going to model the swimsuits."

No, Stephanie doesn't model anymore.

"I got sick of modeling and I was afraid of getting overexposed," the princess explains, not commenting on last year's report that her father forbade her to model after she wound up in a Paris hospital, suffering from the wear and tear of the fast-lane life.

So why does the youngest daughter of Monaco's reigning prince, from one of the world's richest families, start designing water wear?

"I lived by the seaside all my life, but I could never find swimsuits I liked," Stephanie admits. With a wrinkled-nose grin and eyes wide, she recalls her first swimming attire: "I hated it--it was my sister Caroline's suit, a hand-me-down. That happens a lot when you have an older sister."

She points out that her interest in fashion developed very early:

"I've always been interested in clothes, from as early as I can remember," Stephanie asserts. "I used to love playing paper dolls with my mother--she would cut them out and I would dress the dolls."

Stephanie was the only passenger in the car when her mother Princess Grace suffered a stroke at the wheel and died of a brain hemorrhage in 1982. When the auto plunged off a Riviera mountain road, the young princess suffered minor physical injuries.

After her mother's death, Stephanie enrolled at the Fashion Design School in Paris, but dropped out after a year.

"You lose time studying fashion in school," the princess explains--she wanted experience. Under the tutelage of Marc Bohan, she apprenticed as a fabric and jewelry designer at the haute couture house of Christian Dior, where she met Mlle. Alix de la Comble, another Dior trainee who specialized in wedding gowns.

The pair formed a strong friendship. "We sat at our drawing boards in the same room for three months before we spoke," De la Comble admits. "Then one day we both started trying on designer shoes, and we started laughing like a couple of children. From then on we were friends."

"Once we started talking, we decided we would do something new in swimwear, so we took a gamble and we won," explains Stephanie, who notes that they financed their small company on their own--"My father didn't finance us."

"Something new" means a collection of swimwear, skirts, pants and robes made of a sheer nylon/Lycra, a stretch fabric. "At Dior we learned to treat each piece of clothing as an important part of a wardrobe," says Stephanie, who left her apprenticeship after one year.

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