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Stephanie : Her Serene Highness Prefers Swim Togs to Tiaras

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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“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.

Those lessons apparently paid off. Since its introduction last July, Pool Position boasts sales of 28,000 suits, all in the $80-to-$150 range, Jean-Francois Marchand, the firm’s commercial director, says. According to a spokesperson for Bullocks, 20 Pool Position suits sold in less than 24 hours, 12 of them at $124 each.

Today the princess and De la Comble not only share a thriving business, they share an apartment in the 16th Arrondissement, one of the upscale neighborhoods of Paris. De la Comble, who is engaged to be married in July (“I don’t know what I’m wearing yet,” notes the former wedding gown designer), has become a close friend of Stephanie’s family, socializing and traveling with them in royal circles.

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“But when we are at work she is just Stephanie Grimaldi, not a princess,” De la Comble maintains. “She is 10 years younger than I, so she designs the younger, more plugged-in styles, and I do the sophisticated looks. The partnership works very well.”

The team produces just one collection of swimwear a year, leaving Stephanie time to pursue her other interests. Six months ago, she walked into a friend’s recording studio, and, on a lark, took a turn at singing a song called “Irresistible.” The royal rock star was born. Now she can’t say the name of her hit without breaking into song.

“Who would think I could sing with this voice?” she laughs, referring to her husky alto. “We worked on the record for four months, because it had to be extremely professional--I didn’t want anyone to say I was getting by on my name.” Released in Europe March 1, “Irresistible” has sold 200,000 copies and tops charts all over the continent, according to the princess.

Although a video of her recording session is selling in Europe, Stephanie insists that it is not a professional production.

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“We’re just completing the real video so we can release “Irresistible” in the States--you can’t sell a record here without a video,” she says. (Stephanie also directs and produces the Pool Position video tape that accompanies the swimwear at Bullocks.)

Her record is sung both in English and French, taking advantage of the princess’ facility with both languages.

“My sister and brother and I grew up speaking both languages--French to our father and English to our mother. But when we three kids are talking to each other, we use English,” she explains, in an American-English dialect that’s more San Fernando Valley girl than Monte Carlo noblesse.

Stephanie asserts that she has a close relationship with her siblings and that both have been very supportive of her new swimwear venture. Caroline won’t be wearing one this summer, however, the princess notes, “because she’ll be so pregnant that the suits won’t stretch enough. Maybe we’ll make one special for her.”

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Rebellious Nature

Acknowledging her father’s enthusiasm for her business, Stephanie added that both of her parents were accustomed to her rebellious nature.

“I was always the headstrong child in the family,” she maintains. “My mother and father called me a rebel at 2 years old. But they always accepted me as an individual.” Asked if she thought her mother would have approved of her new career, Stephanie replied: “My mother always told me I would be an artist. I think she would be very happy.”

Princess and the Press

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Saturday morning, before signing autographs at Bullock’s, the princess and De la Comble met the press in the gardens of the Westwood Marquis Hotel. Dressed in an ankle-length striped duster over a navy pleated skirt and yellow overblouse, all designed by De la Comble, the princess wore no hose with her black leather pumps.

As a finale to the swimsuit presentation, the models plunged into the pool, making the point that the white suits may be some of the world’s sheerest. Though all of the styles shown were one piece, the wet whites left less to the imagination than a topless bikini.

At a post personal-appearance celebratory dinner at the home of Bullock’s chairman Allen Questrom and his wife, Kelli, Princess Stephanie was attired in a denim miniskirt, an oversize red-and-white striped shirt with hip-slung belt and black lace stockings. She topped the outfit with a denim jacket, complete with varsity letter.

Tied on her left wrist was a somewhat worn, but colorful woven ribbon. “It’s a Brazilian wish ribbon and if I wear it until it falls off on its own, my wishes come true--so I’m just going to wait for my wishes to come true.”

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If one wonders what a princess wishes for, one mustn’t ask. “I can’t tell you or they won’t happen.”


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