The Top New Swimsuit Model Weds (under All Those Yards of White) in a Swimsuit

updated 06/09/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/09/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

She's a honey-hued, 6' Aussie; he's a 5' 10" French fashion photographer who labors daily amid the world's most beautiful women. When Elle Macpherson, this year's Sports Illustrated swim-suit cover girl, first met Gilles Bensimon two and a half years ago, it was during a fashion shoot in paradise—Tahiti. C'est fantastique, non?

Not exactly, mate. Nothing romantic happened on the languid, flower-scented island. "Elle arrived late, she got a pimple on her chin and then a sunburn," recalls Gilles, 42. As for her lush radiance—well, he says, "I see a lot of beautiful girls in my work." Says Elle, 21: "I really didn't like him very much in Tahiti." Despite the unpromising beginning, the two stayed in touch and fell in love a year later. Now Elle (pronounced "L") is murmuring, "Jet'aime, baby" in her newly acquired French, and Gilles is aglow. On May 24 Gallic elegance mingled with Down Under informality when the two wed in a splashy-yet-relaxed ceremony near the groom's family estate in Sologne, France.

Like most French couples, Gilles and Elle had a civil ceremony earlier, this one in Paris. Afterward, family members and friends gathered for lunch at a hotel where, between passionate kisses, Gilles yammered in French about photography while Elle chattered in English with her sister Mim, 19, and her high school pal, Hannah Thorley, an Australian policewoman. "Elle's wedding," kidded Mim, who had flown in from Sydney, the bride's hometown, "is just an excuse to come to Paris."

The pace picked up a lot the next day. Underneath sun-dappled trees at the estate, caterers bustled about, preparing to serve 250 guests an array of gourmet delicacies that included hors d'oeuvres, blanquette de veau, tubs of caviar, chocolate wedding cake and 500 bottles of Perrier-Jouët champagne. A horde of children scampered in and out of three huge, blue-striped tents—nieces, nephews, and Gilles' daughter Alice, 13, from his first marriage (his ex-wife also attended). Less than an hour before the ceremony, the groom was shaving while his future mother-in-law prophesied, "I don't think, I know they'll be happy. They understand each other's frantic lifestyles." (In his globetrotting he has shot ads for Cover Girl, Virginia Slims and Revlon. She's done covers for Elle, Cosmopolitan and Self.)

When Elle appeared on the staircase a few moments later, a flush of modesty suddenly overcame the woman who had achieved fame in a revealing swimsuit. "Don't look at me like that," she pleaded to her mom, who simply replied, "You're so beautiful." The Tunisian designer Azzedine Alaïa had fashioned a clinging white viscose gown that was a road map to some of the Click model agency's most valuable curves. Made of removeable pieces, the outfit could also turn, chameleon style, from long to short, to one-shouldered with bare midriff, and finally into a bathing suit. (It remained a dress, in public at least.) Observed one onlooker: "It's a honeymoon dress. Day look, evening look, then Gilles gets to pull the strings at the end." Click president Frances Grill, after one glance, concluded, "Elle's got the best body in the world."

A little pale, a touch nervous and looking utterly lovely, Elle asked, "Where's Gilles? He mustn't see me," before heading off to the Dhuizon church. Finding herself vamping out of habit for the cameras outside, she exclaimed, "Hey, I don't want to do this! This is my wedding!" Still, one onlooker noted that even as she went down the aisle to Maurice Jarre's music from Witness, "Elle sashayed, just like on the runway."

The couple did not kiss during the ceremony but amply made up for that omission later. Smooches and hugs were followed by goo-goo eyes throughout the reception, which lasted through lunch, dinner and dancing. Mindful of the fact that the couple had lived together for over a year, Elle's 71-year-old grandmother joked, "At least she's not a blushing bride."

The couple, who are honeymooning in Marrakesh, Morocco, spent the night at the estate. The next morning family and friends nibbled leftovers, and later the newlyweds opened and joked about the wedding gifts. Barefoot, in jeans, Elle sat next to her husband and complained of a tummy ache from breakfasting on champagne and a caramel éclair. It promises to be a rich marriage.

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