High Intrigue and Haute Couture: the Tainted Troubled Times of Monaco's Princess Stephanie

updated 11/19/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/19/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

The principality of Monaco lost its fairy-tale luster for many people after the death of Princess Grace, and perhaps most of all for the youngest Grimaldi: fragile, sad-eyed Stephanie. The princess, who was with her mother at the time of the car accident, had to withstand the grueling spotlight of a public confused by the botched handling of the investigation and by varying versions of what really happened. Now, once again, Stephanie is involved in a murky business that would perplex even Chief Inspector Maigret.

The trouble started on the evening of Oct. 29, as 19-year-old Stephanie returned home to the Paris apartment her father owns on elegant Avenue George Mandel. The princess, who settled down in Paris a year ago to work as an apprentice to Marc Bohan at Christian Dior, was alone in her red Autobianchi. Then, according to the police version based on Stephanie's testimony, she got out of the car and was accosted by a man and a woman outside the garage of her building. Pointing a gun at the princess, the man ordered her back behind the wheel. Stephanie started screaming then ran toward her apartment, and her assailants fled in a red Volkswagen. The concierge swiftly called the police. Stephanie ran to the arms of Prince Rainier, whose pied-à-terre is across the hall from her apartment.

But other accounts of the incident vary. France Soir, the widely read afternoon daily, reported that Stephanie struggled with her attackers inside the garage before the man and woman were frightened off by Stephanie's screams. Then there is the official Monegasque version, in which Stephanie was inside the car when the trouble began. "Maybe it was an attempted kidnapping, but we don't know," says Nadia Lacoste, the Grimaldi longtime spokeswoman. "We've got very little to go on," admits Claude Bard of the Parisian Criminal Brigade. "There were no witnesses. The princess was shocked and gave a report that is completely subjective."

Though the police have classified the incident as an attempted kidnapping, there is speculation in Paris and Monaco that it may be something else. An attempted robbery is one suggestion and, in fact, a few days after the attack, there were reports of an unsuccessful break-in at Prince Albert's apartment nearby. Police deny there is any connection between the two incidents, though Chief Inspector Maigret might quibble.

Whatever the truth and consequences of the incident on Avenue George Mandel, the princess seems plagued by problems. Once the most ebullient of Grace's children, she has now, friends say, embarked on a course of self-destructive cheap thrills. This escalated last July, when Stephanie broke up with Paul Belmondo, actor Jean-Paul's son, who had been sharing her Paris quarters across the hall from Rainier's pied-a-terre. Since the split, Stephanie' has changed boyfriends the way some girls do outfits. "She is in a volatile phase," says one friend. "The people she sees are the night people—a mixed crew, all ages, all occupations. And she does the same things they do, everything you can imagine." Says another, "It's not a nice crowd."

Nearly every evening, Stephanie haunts Paris' trendy nightspots. Most of her nocturnal forays end at Le Palace disco, a hangout for a crowd of "in" Parisians. On a recent evening, she showed up wearing a black blazer, black pants and a T-shirt, with one gold ring in her ear. Watching her recently, as she flitted from one table to another, an acquaintance observed, "She looked like an effeminate little boy, obviously euphoric, making quite a bit of noise, a bit of an exhibition."

Stephanie's nightlife is in sharp contrast to her daytime existence at the classy Dior establishment on Avenue Montaigne. As part of Bohan's five-member haute couture team, she helps select fabrics, sketches the collections and also researches fashion ideas, such as new collar shapes. Bohan has encouraged Stephanie to submit her designs, some of which he incorporated into his spring-summer collection.

But in the past few months Stephanie's behavior has become increasingly erratic. She has failed to show up for some appointments, and her work is suffering as well. She comes in late, and her lack of interest in her job has perplexed her Dior superiors. Her most important role at the fashion house now appears to be strictly one of publicity.

Her family has been too far away to help. Although Rainier, 61, happened to be in Paris during the recent attack, he spends most of his time at his pink palace in Monaco. There, he trains his son and heir, Albert, 26, to take over the principality and whiles away his days with golf, overeating and the discreet company of various handsome women. As for his daughter Caroline, 27, who spends most of her time at her Monaco villa, perhaps it's just as well she is miles away from Stephanie. Caroline, it seems, has turned into a fierce mother hen since her son Andrea's birth. "Albert and Stephanie try to get away from her as much as possible," says one palace insider. "They say she is too bossy."

But Rainier still heads the clan, and the children clearly dote on Dad. Says one pal who watched them dine en famille last summer at the Sporting Hotel in Porto Rotondo, Sardinia, "The children were hanging on his every word." After dinner, Stephanie went to a disco. "The minute she walked in," the friend adds, "she became another person. She was raucous and full of high spirits."

Since her strange Paris encounter, those spirits appear somewhat subdued. Although Stephanie is back at work, she is seen less often at Paris' nightclubs and restaurants. Moreover, the princess who, like most of the family, eschewed bodyguards (Caroline has one when she goes out with her baby), is now constantly trailed by a pair of burly protectors. Perhaps their sobering presence and the harrowing times she has been through will have a positive effect, says one friend. "Maybe this will finally straighten her out."

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