Royal Wedding, American Style

HER PHOTO DIDN'T APPEAR IN HER COLLEGE'S FRESHMAN ""FACE BOOK'' OR HER senior-class yearbook. But now Carolyn Bessette's picture is everywhere. And no wonder: in a stealth wedding on Georgia's remote Cumberland Island, she married JFK Jr., dubbed by People magazine ""The Sexiest Man Alive.'' Now, perhaps intentionally evoking that title, he told guests at the wedding rehearsal dinner he's ""the happiest man alive.''

Despite months of secret nuptial planning that rivaled preparations for a major military invasion, scorps from the National Enquirer infiltrated the event and snapped both earthbound and aerial pictures. Reporters and photogs from Globe magazine tracked the couple to their initial honeymoon stop, in Istanbul, Turkey.

But the tabloid invaders couldn't spoil the celebration. Gossip columnist Cindy Adams wrote cynically, "'Little John-John got married because he's no longer little John-John. The kid's halfway between birth and Medicare. It's time.'' The wedding clearly meant more than that to John (as he likes to be called), now 35 and best known heretofore as scion and playboy hunk. ""I really think that I have found my soulmate,'' he told his pal Richard Wiese last spring, while the two were playing tennis. "'He's a soulful person,'' Wiese, a fraternity brother of JFK's at Brown, told NEWSWEEK. "'And I can just see him thinking long and hard about where and how to have this wedding and make it a spiritual one.''

The Roman Catholic ceremony took place in the tiny First African Baptist Church, built in 1893 by freed slaves and decorated with island vines and wildflowers for this occasion. The celebrant was the Rev. Charles J. O'Byrne of New York's St. Ignatius Loyola, the church where Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's funeral mass was held. Jackie was known to have approved of Carolyn. JFK wore his father's watch and a boutonniere of cornflowers, the late president's favorite blossom. And if Jackie won fame as a style-setter, Carolyn--who recently quit her Calvin Klein marketing job--made her own fashion mark with The Dress. Designed by Narciso Rodriguez (a friend from her CK days) for Nino Cerruti, the Paris-made size-6 silvery-white silk creation was cut on the bias to emphasize the bride's body beautiful. Six feet tall, 30-year-old Bessette-Kennedy (her choice of surname) nonetheless wore high-heeled matching sandals. "'The heels helped the movement of the dress,'' Cerruti told NEWSWEEK. The effect, he said, is ""glamour that speaks of seduction rather than sexiness. Nothing Hollywood.''

Cerruti and Rodriguez, who also designed a slinky champagne-colored chiffon rehearsal-dinner dress for Carolyn and a navy silk empire-waisted matron-of-honor gown for Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, presented all three garments as gifts. Rodriguez wouldn't guess at their value. "'After all,'' he said, "'you don't give a gift to someone and then report to NEWSWEEK how much it cost!'' (Estimates by others ranged from $15,000 to $40,000 for the bride's dress.) Cerruti was amused by rumors of Seventh Avenue ripoffs already underway. "'They'll have to have the fabric and the body,'' he said.

Silk and high heels are not Carolyn's customary garb. Back in TriBeCa, neighbors told NEWSWEEK last week, the couple's style is as casual as the community, which is also home to the likes of Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel. ""People let each other be,'' says one neighbor. "'I've never seen anyone ogling or trying to talk to her or him.'' That isn't to say no one notices them. Manuel Rodriguez, 27, a club kid with dyed blond hair, works behind the counter at the Commodities Coffee House, which is around the corner from the newlyweds' loft building. About 10 days before the wedding, he says, they dropped in at noon. "'They kissed,'' he says, sticking out his tongue and wiggling it to demonstrate. "'Wet. A really wet kiss. They looked like they were planning something. Conspiring.''

Plans are Carolyn's thing. After graduating from Boston University--where her photo adorned the cover of a cal- endar called "'The Girls of B.U.''--she coordinated major events for a chain of Boston nightclubs. She also posed for some provocative (but fully clothed) pictures for photographer friend Robert DiMarzo, who says, "'She is a very normal, well-brought-up girl. When she becomes First Lady, she'll be just wonderful.'' Well, that's a stretch. For now, Carolyn seems perfectly happy merely being the luckiest woman alive.