Crazy For Carolyn

Please, I can't see.'' Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, the recently hyphenated bride of John Kennedy Jr., was experiencing a fame hazard her late mother-in-law knew all too well: paparazzi blindness. Walking the flash- bulb gantlet from her yellow cab to the stone-columned entrance of 888 Park Avenue, she made her way into last week's party thrown for the newlyweds by John's sister, Caroline, and her husband, Ed Schlossberg. John, 35, had arrived earlier, biking expertly by the snapping horde into the marble lobby and straight into the wood-paneled elevator. His wife, for all her long, blond beauty and poise, still seems freaked by her new fame. Wearing a long, clingy black dress, black shawl and pearls, her most notable accessory was a black shopping bag from Barneys. Details on Carolyn are still sketchy, but this much is certain: she knows how to shop.

In Hyannis Port, they're adding the 30-year-old Princess Carolyn's name to the Kennedy Museum family tree. In New York, tabloid stalkers are ready to poke through her garbage. Welcome to Camelot. The girl voted ""Ultimate Beautiful Person'' in her 1983 high-school yearbook has finally fulfilled her destiny. The ink was barely dry on the wedding register before fashion-magazine editors started gushing. Liz Tilberis, of Harper's Bazaar: ""We'd love to have her on the cover. She's going to be an amazing symbol of American style.'' Vogue's Anna Wintour: ""Carolyn has fabulous modern style.'' Patrick McCarthy, of Women's Wear Daily: ""She's going to be a style icon, no doubt.''

The hot ticket at the Paris ready-to-wear collections last week was Cerruti, mobbed on Saturday because the house's young designer, Narciso Rodriguez, 35, did Carolyn's slinky wedding gown. ""There's a huge buzz around Narciso,'' says Allure editor Linda Wells. Not as big as the buzz around Carolyn, just back from her Turkish honeymoon. Suddenly, the world wants to know, What's she wearing? How'd she do her hair? And how did she get him anyway? ""Our new Obsession,'' New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called the former Calvin Klein publicist. Such is the price of bagging The Most Eligible Bachelor Alive: millions of otherwise sane women want either to hit you or to emulate your every move. Is Carolyn up to it?

She has a Look. Even Seventh Avenue's terminally blasE fashion police are impressed by their former colleague's Elan: a mix of high and low couture, grunge and glamour. ""She is the perfect image of the American girl,'' says designer Michael Kors, 37. ""She never looks studied. I've seen her wear an inexpensive T shirt and an expensive jacket. That shows personal expression. She doesn't tear a page out of a magazine and re-create the look.''

From Calvin she learned minimalism. Kors praises her eye for ""proportion,'' how her skirts are always just the right length. ""That is unusual in someone so young,'' he says, as if speaking of a child prodigy's feel for Beethoven. What she has, Kors says, is ""throwaway chic.'' This may irk old-school purists like Jackie's couturier, Oleg Cassini, 83, who complains that because Carolyn appeared in public last week with scuffed boots, she may not have the ""discipline'' Jackie did ""to reach the lofty goal of Queen of Fashion.'' But we live in a dressed-down age when sweat suits are deemed appropriate evening attire. Carolyn mirrors this generation as Jackie did hers. ""She has that contradiction which is very '90s,'' says Kors, ""very relaxed and casual and still looking elegant.''

Dolly Parton once observed that there's no such thing as natural beauty. Carolyn's has definitely had help (page 66). The same year John was anointed People magazine's ""Sexiest Man Alive,'' she was the very suburban cover girl for a 1988 ""Girls of B.U.'' calendar. Or compare her now with those come-hither ""model'' shots from 1991, when a more voluptuous Carolyn posed sitting on hay bales, bare legs, or striding around the streets of Boston in cowboy boots and a motorcycle jacket, looking more like a refugee from a Van Halen video than a future Kennedy.

The makeover started at Calvin Klein. She worked as a salesclerk at the designer's Boston store before being summoned to the Manhattan headquarters in 1989. In New York, says Women's Wear Daily's McCarthy, ""you're going to learn so much more about makeup and beauty and hair. When you're around models, it has an effect on you. You're going to work out more, watch the way you eat.'' She plucked, slimmed, dyed. Allure's Wells calls Carolyn's revamped look ""effortful effortless. You know it took work to get it to look that unstudied.''

Consider her hair. Colorist Brad Johns says her natural shade is pale brown: he started lightening it a year ago. ""She wanted to make it more interesting and beautiful,'' Johns says. ""Now it's a honey blond with big buttery chunks around the front.'' Judging from Carolyn's remarkably fat-free physique--six feet tall and a svelte size 6--that seems to be the only way she comes into contact with either honey or butter.

What Carolyn has that can't be bought at Barneys or in a salon is an aura that draws men like flies. John's old friend (and Grateful Dead lyricist) John Perry Barlow speaks with awe of her ""mystical femininity.'' At the candlelit wedding on an island off the Georgia coast, he says, she ""came in the church looking like some beautiful ghost.'' Like Jackie, who sent John to Barlow's Wyoming ranch for the summer 20 years ago, Carolyn is ""profoundly feminine,'' he says.

There are other parallels. ""A girl with a mind of her own,'' Joe Kennedy said of the young Jackie. Carolyn, too, has the public persona of a vaguely soulless mannequin; she has yet to favor the press with an interview. But friends claim she brandishes a sharp wit (""Calvin just flew in on her broom,'' she once joked) and an even sharper tongue. Witness the lashing she gave her fiancE during their videotaped spat in a New York park in February. John sat down and cried. Minutes later, they were kissing.

For all her modern allure, Carolyn embodies many of the distinctly retro qualities laid out in the best-selling how-to-marry-the-man-of-your-dreams primer, ""The Rules'' (page 65). She didn't just play hard-to-get. She was.

That she wound up a Kennedy is no accident. Carolyn has always dated for success. At Boston University, she went out with the captain of the hockey team and Italian fashion-empire scion Alessandro Benetton. In New York, she dated Calvin Klein underwear model Michael Bergin. ""She's a natural "Rules' girl,'' says one of the book's coauthors, Ellen Fein. Her partner, Sherrie Schneider, adds, ""The first time John proposed to her last year, she said, "I'll think about it'.'' Carolyn's genius was in not acting like she was out to catch him. Instead, she played it cool, threatening to go back to her underwear guy if he strayed--post-feminist courtship tactics that also make her emblematic of her generation. ""She would tell people, "I'm not waiting around for him,' knowing it would get back to John,'' says a friend of the couple's. ""But in fact she would stay home and wait for him to call.''

Poor bastard never had a chance. ""He's wrapped around her little finger,'' the friend says, having seen him with many women over the years. ""He's gaga over her.'' Carolyn would phone him many times a day at his magazine, George, and he'd always take the call. ""It's never, "I'll call her back','' says a former staffer. ""He'd get out of meetings when she called.'' Carolyn didn't have to read ""The Rules.'' As one friend says, ""She has her own operat- ing manual.''

A key chapter in that manual must be the one on Sex, Its Applications and Uses. None of her previous beaux would talk, though high-school flame Eugene Carlin let slip, before clamming up, that their adolescent fling was ""hot and heavy.'' Believe himm. A word consistently attached to Carolyn is ""sexy.'' Sometimes the description gets steamed up to ""raunchy.'' Look at the pictures. ""She's always in his lap!'' a friend observes. There was that shot last year of her in a thong on John's ""pleasure boat.'' This summer, she was caught spilling out of her sundress on her way to a memorial service. Cerruti designer Rodriguez, who knew Carolyn from his apprenticeship at Calvin Klein, says one of her primary concerns in making the nuptial frock was its sexiness. ""It's pretty seductive for a wedding dress, wouldn't you say? It shows Carolyn's personality: clean, classic, sexy, seductive.''

Seduction, of course, can take many forms. Carolyn is a rapt listener. ""She focuses one-on-one,'' says Richard Wiese, a local newscaster who plays touch football with John. ""She's quite interesting and challenging in that way and draws a lot out of people.'' Given her formidable social skills, it's not surprising that after graduating with a degree in elementary education, she wound up doing promotion and marketing for Boston nightclubs. She was ""a good schmoozer, a good networker,'' her boss then told The Boston Globe. But she was soon ready to move on. Jonathan Soroff, a former nightlife writer for the Boston Herald who hung out with her in those years, recalls, ""She was very good at what she did, very professional. But she spent as little time as possible at the clubs. It was really not her.''

No? When she came to New York, Carolyn immediately became a denizen of such nightspots of the moment as MK, Rex and Buddha Bar. ""She'd come in a lot,'' says former MK owner and veteran scenester Eric Goode. ""But she wasn't wild and crazy or anything.'' Tales of how she met John vary. The official version is that they were both jogging in Central Park. An unofficial story has them meeting at a trendy club. The most boring, and probable, scenario is that they were introduced by friends. Either way, she had managed to place herself in his orbit.

At Calvin Klein, she was a personal shopper to the stars, outfitting the likes of Annette Bening, Diane Sawyer and Blaine Trump. A New York journalist who was one of Carolyn's customers was stunned by her simple stylishness: ""I remember what she was wearing the first time I saw her: penny loafers, no socks, black leggings, a white T shirt and a jacket. I think the jacket was the only item that could have been Calvin Klein. She looked fantastic. You wanted to look like that. You would spend thousands of dollars on clothing you didn't need to look like that.'' Carolyn graduated to publicist for Calvin's high-end ""collection'' line, where she developed her reputation for engaging in shouting matches with models and underlings. ""In the fashion business, things get hectic, crazy, frantic,'' says Paul Wilmot, VP of public relations at CondE Nast and a former head of PR at Calvin Klein. Although he says he never saw her lose her cool, he concedes that ""tensions run high.'' Why she left the company this spring is murky. Her job was dealing with the press, but she was getting more calls about Kennedy than Calvin. ""She brought them a kind of publicity they didn't need,'' says Klein biographer Steven Gaines. A fashion editor who knows her says, ""She used her job as a social entree.'' As a publicist, Carolyn was her own best client.

She has taken herself far and fast from the subdued affluence of Greenwich, Conn. Her parents split when she was 8 and her mother, Ann, remarried an orthopedic surgeon. She has twin sisters, Lisa and Laura, 18 months older. One is an art historian studying in Germany, the other an investment banker in Hong Kong. They opted for more traditional avenues of overachievement. Carolyn represents a very '90s nexus of fashion, sex and publicity. In the October issue of his magazine, John hinted at his wedding plans by writing that political marriages are often assumed to be ""a calculated power merger rather than a love story.'' John and Carolyn are both: a media merger of publicist and fame and a love story.

There is something darkly romantic about the pre-wedding seclusion she endured to throw the tabloids off the scent. The month before the secret nuptials, Carolyn was cooped up at home, depressed, not getting up until 3 in the afternoon. A close friennd says Carolyn ""went to the mattress to clear her head.'' And in retrospect, her strange sequestration seems almost like a rite of passage, necessary to every fairy tale.

Now the metamorphosis is complete. ""As soon as she married a Kennedy,'' says Cassini, ""that immediately elevated her to the rank of top Cinderella.'' But, he adds, ""she's really pre-icon right now. We don't know where she'll go and everybody is watching and waiting.'' Or is she, as one fashion insider says, the ""flavor du jour''? Others expect the flavor to last longer. Says Washington hostess Peggy Cafritz: ""She's always going to be in the public eye and people will sit in beauty parlors and doctors' offices everywhere looking at pictures of her.'' The bridal gown will be the first big test. ""Seventh Avenue hasn't had anything like this since Princess Di's wedding,'' says Alan Millstein, editor of a fashion-industry newsletter. ""I think next June, we'll see a lot of brides trying to squeeze themselves into JCPenney versions of the dress.''

But Carolyn could face a backlash. When a group of American tourists stumbled onto the honeymooners in Turkey, reaction was decidedly mixed. A magazine editor who was there says one of the women on the trip remarked, after spotting Carolyn, ""She's no beauty queen.'' Many of the men agreed. ""They were acting as if he, John, had let their side down. One of them said he was obligated to marry better.'' Ouch. The spotlight can be harsh. Time to start wearing those Jackie O shades.

"The Rules," a best-selling primer for women on how to land Mr. Right, lays out the do's and don'ts of dating for success. Carolyn Bessette followed some of the "Rules" to snag John-John. But she broke some, too, and made up a few rules of her own.

Be a 'creature unlike any other': Carolyn is often described as having an intangible mystique or, as one of John's friends has said, a "mystical femininity."

Always be happy and busy: Carolyn always had her own life, socially as a nightclub party girl and professionally as a PR exec at Calvin Klein.

Don't call him and rarely return his calls: Carolyn called John at his political magazine, George, "a million times a day," a source says. But the busy editor always took her calls.

Try not to raise your voice or scream too much: Vocal and opinionated, Carolyn gave John a tongue-lashing during their infamous tiff in a New York park.

Don't live with a man: She moved into his Tribeca loft after they had been dating for a while.

Wear fashionable, sexy clothes: Always alluringly attired, she even wore a wedding dress designed to bare as much flesh as possible.

Wear your hair long: Hers is long, flowing and "honey blond," says her colorist, Brad Johns, "with big buttery chunks around the front."

Don't be overweight: Slimmed down since her more voluptuous college days, Carolyn is a svelte size 6.

Make him think you have other men in your life: If Carolyn thought John's attention was waning, she'd be seen on the town with underwear model Michael Bergin.

Never bring up marriage: When John finally popped the question, she coolly replied that she would think about it and made him wait for her to say "Yes."

In her early 20s, Bessette sported a flashy Madonna wanna-be look. But by the time she met her husband-to-be, she was already developing a sleeker, minimalist style. New York fashion stylist Kym Canter dissects the transformation:

Cheek and Jaw "She's obviously lost a lot of weight, and it shows in her face. Cheekbones and jaw line are much more prominent."

Eyebrows "They used to be more of a half circle. Now they're straighter with no pronounced arch, probably waxed or tweezed. It's a '20s look, very glamorous right now."

Hair "I think she's a little too blond. She needs some low-lights back in. That's the biggest fashion error. By keeping her hair long, she elongates her face."

Makeup "It looks like she wears only lipstick and mascara. I like her natural makeup, especially with hair that blond. It's very chic. I don't think her face would take a lot of makeup; she'd look cheap."

Eyes "It looks like her natural eye color. I don't think she's wearing contacts."

Clothes "She's ladylike and refined. It's a New York fashion editor's look. She sticks to neutrals. No jewelry. Diamond studs or pearls are all you're going to see on her. She looks prettier when dressed down."