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The Regal Majesty Of Prince Rainier

By Robin Givhan
The Washington Post
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page C02

For those who do not live with a monarchy and so tend to judge the few that still exist by their degree of glamour and fashionability, the Grimaldi dynasty was perfectly wrought.

Prince Rainier III, who died Wednesday at 81, crafted an exquisite fairy tale complete with a picture-perfect princess and a Mediterranean kingdom fueled by beauty, wealth and speed. The economy of Monaco is driven by the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, well-to-do tourists and the fast cars of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Thanks to the famous Monte Carlo casino, Rainier maintained the aura of gambling as a high-rolling sport of dashing counts and louche playboys rather than the pastime of bored retirees playing the penny slots. Like so many royal families, his was plagued with scandal, but of the sort found in bodice-ripping page turners. The Grimaldi tabloid spectacles were dominated by out-of-wedlock births, inappropriate lovers and the high-strung willfulness indulged in by those who have little to worry about other than their own happiness.

Prince Rainier III, Grace Kelly
Prince Rainier III, Grace Kelly
Prince Rainier and actress Grace Kelly leave her New York apartment in 1956, a day after they announced their engagement. (AP File Photo)

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This royal fairy tale was enticing because it was flawed. Perfection, all too often, is boring.

Rainier chose as his princess the Hollywood star Grace Kelly, whom he married in 1956. Only the film and fashion worlds can quickly bestow credentials of glamour, and Hollywood and the catwalk were both enamored with Kelly. Few films so lavishly celebrate style as "Rear Window," in which Kelly, as socialite Lisa Fremont, arrives at the apartment of her boyfriend -- played by Jimmy Stewart -- with a lacy overnight kit stored in an elegant Mark Cross overnight bag. The audience knew the precise brand of her valise because she announced it in the film.

The Hermes Kelly bag was named for Princess Grace after she used one to demurely obscure her pregnant belly. And fashion continues to be inspired by her. The most recent example is the fall 2005 collection from Alexander McQueen.

Rainier benefited from the reflected glory of his princess, but he had his own cosmopolitan panache that diminished only slightly with age. His expression and attire always suggested a bit of rakish charm. In a photograph taken in 2000, he stands with a muffler wrapped casually around his neck. He's wearing a navy suit and taupe overcoat and his hands are casually tucked into the pockets of his blazer. He is neither stiff nor stern. He could be any well-traveled, dapper gentleman awaiting his driver -- or in this case, the start of a soccer match.

Prince Rainier in 1999. (Jacques Munch)
Except in the most formal portraits, Rainier never looked particularly burdened. There are a host of images of Rainier in his fashionable sunglasses at the races, having a smoke or even leaving a commemorative Mass. The fantasy of a royal life never includes the rigorous pomp and stifling obligations that, in reality, so often come with it.

The prince was lucky because he was in the prime of his social life during a particularly fashionable period in history and when folks were photographed in black-and-white. The dramatic contrasts, the moody shadows, seem to make everyone look better -- more elegant, more charismatic. Color photography brings realism, but in the process, mystery and magic are often lost. In the 1950s and much of the '60s, everyone seemed to dress with greater attention to detail -- not just those with titles. Rainier, pictured with his stunning bride and her famous Hollywood cohorts, epitomizes the image of the debonair prince, his fast life filled with beautiful people.

Rainier's carefully crafted fairy tale preceded the awkward -- and ultimately unsuccessful -- one authored by Britain's Prince Charles. To some degree, the times conspired against Charles, who will finally marry Camilla Parker Bowles on Saturday. Rainier benefited from a more diplomatic period when fantasies tended to wear away slowly rather than be chipped away with malicious glee. But Rainier also appeared pleased with the image he presented to the public. Charles looked morose during his marriage to Princess Diana.

Toward the end of Rainier's life, the Grimaldi family scandals took on an air of the absurd. But the prince never fully lost the glamour that he carefully constructed during his reign. His kingdom was still one of celebrities and millionaires. His princess, who died in an auto accident in 1982, was forever remembered as a classic beauty. And he -- even with thinning hair and a portly physique -- looked like a prince for whom his title was a privilege rather than a duty.

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