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Who's That Girl? Quite Possibly the Perfect Match

Couples: Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy has done her time as the raging party girl. She studied being social. But always, she's been independent, caring and kind, pals say.

October 18, 1996|ANN GERHART | THE WASHINGTON POST

"She couldn't have been more perfectly suited for the role. She looked the part, she knew the clothes, she had wonderful people skills and diplomacy," Wilmot said. When she left in the spring, after seven years with Calvin Klein, she was the director of show production and earning a salary in the low six figures. Her relationship with Kennedy finally intruded: "How can you talk to the press when you are avoiding the press?" a colleague explained.

Model-tall and a perfect size 6, Carolyn presents herself with calculated casualness. She jams hats on her head, sticks pencils in hair buns. On her honeymoon in Istanbul, she wore a head scarf.

"In the time I've known her," said a woman in the couple's circle, "she's been borderline grunge."

Kennedy, the woman said, "has always made a point of looking like a griz"--just sloppy enough to make people think you aren't obsessed about your looks--"and she makes a point of looking like an alluring female version of that."

She carried this shabby chic into her wedding, her bare toes peeking out underneath her incredible slip of a wedding dress, no panty line or seed pearl in sight. She adorned herself with no jewelry and pulled her hair almost carelessly into a ponytail.

"Actually, I wanted to give her pearls, and she didn't want to wear anything," said the bride's intimate friend Rodriguez, who made the gown at the Cerruti atelier in Paris and presented it to her as a gift.

"She's my muse, so whatever I see her in, I just get this rush. She's such a beautiful girl, and I don't mean just physically beautiful, she's--I sound like a gushing fan, don't I?--she's just amazing. I'll never see anything more beautiful than that."

And this is her designer talking. Imagine what her husband thinks when he looks at her.

*

Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, said one of her many new in-laws, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, is "a very bright, sweet, wonderful, creative woman whom John has fallen madly in love with. She has been to the Cape on several occasions, and we all love her. We especially love her because he does."

And why does he?

A day after their wedding news flew around the world, a publicist sent a Washington Post reporter a book of advice on playing hard to get, along with a hand-scrawled note that read: "Carolyn Bessette followed these rules!" The book advocates that a woman affect mystery and distance to entrap her prize quarry. But friends said Carolyn was not manipulative in her relationship with Kennedy. Rather, she was careful. He carries all that family baggage, see, even after he unloaded a bunch of it at Sotheby's.

"I think she has fairly good liberated feminist instincts," said a woman who knows the couple. "She was not one of the women who was saying, 'How can I make this happen?' It was more like, 'Am I sure this is what I want to do?' "

The newlyweds were friends for a while before they were lovers and "worked out a lot of the obvious hazards together," said Kennedy's friend Barlow. They became engaged a year ago and have lived in his TriBeCa loft since the summer of 1995.

After several months of stealth wedding preparations and a two-week vacation in Turkey and Greece, the new Mrs. Bessette-Kennedy will need some new distractions now that her husband has gone back to work. She could devote herself to her husband's career--but what, exactly, is his career? Writing thank-you notes for the Tiffany wedding gifts can't absorb her forever.

"She is quite willing to debate. She's eager to experience," said investment banker Liam Dalton, who dated Carolyn in the early '90s. "And I'm sure she's now going to have plenty of things to experience. . . . He's got somebody who is really a willing participant to live life to its fullest."

* Special correspondent Dana Thomas contributed to this report.

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