Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Charlotte Casiraghi: Riding High

Troy is a stallion; Tintero is a gelding,” says the slight young woman with the startlingly recognizable face. Troy is wearing fabulous headgear, and Tintero, her sweet-faced gray, has huge eyes that look like they were made up with a kohl pencil. “He is my best horse, my number one—he’s so clever,” says Charlotte Casiraghi, adding that she “jumped really well on him” in Cannes the week before; next week she will be jumping him in Monaco.
At her South of France workout stables, Casiraghi, 24, is in jodhpurs, very, very fabulous riding boots, and a knife-sharp riding coat with a tiny edging of green-red-green on the collar. These colors have signaled “Gucci” to the fashionable world for about 80 years. (It was always a horsey house: That green-red-green webbing started life as a girth strap.) In May, Gucci announced that it would be sponsoring Ms. Casiraghi as she debuted as a promising rider for the Global Champions Tour 2010—which began in Valencia, Spain, and rolled through Europe to finish, in late August, in Rio de Janeiro—“wearing an exclusive equestrian wardrobe, especially designed for her by Gucci creative director Frida Giannini.”
Ms. Casiraghi, note. Charlotte is not styled as a princess of Monaco, thank you very much. She says she is “proud to be Casiraghi.” Her late father (Stefano Casiraghi, Princess Caroline’s second husband) was not a member of Europe’s minor royalty nor its high aristocracy, but a businessman.
Monaco is the reason Casiraghi’s face is so disconcertingly recognizable. The fabled principality, tiny city-state (it’s smaller than Central Park), and tax haven that occupies a narrow slice of the French Riviera is one of the most glamorous places on Earth. And has been since 1956, when 26-year-old Grace Kelly, queen of Hollywood, took a slow boat across the ocean and married the Sovereign Prince of Monaco in the Catholic cathedral while 30 million people watched live coverage (a television first). The groom wore a sword, the bride a high-necked froth of lace made by Edith Head, who costumed her movies, and Their Serene Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Monaco lived happily ever after in a fairy-tale pink palace. Sort of.
Casiraghi’s inherited beauty is both physical and mythopoeic. Her square-cut, perfectly composed face calls to mind not only her dazzling mother, Princess Caroline, but also the photogenius (if that’s not a word, it should be) of her fabulous grandmother who died in a car smash in 1982, before she and her brothers (older brother, Andrea; younger, Pierre) were born.
Luminous beauty drives men mad (especially cameramen with long lenses). Princess Caroline, in her 20s, was always running from paparazzi, as was Diana, Princess of Wales. There is something about princes of the blood and swords and palaces that makes beautiful women 100 times more alluring. America, very sensibly, does not go in for hereditary highnesses. The late Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, with her pale, pared-down perfection and deer-in-the-headlights elusiveness, came closest. England ran out of fairy-tale princesses after Diana was chased to death. Sarah Ferguson’s daughters, with their grandiose Victorian names (Beatrice, Eugenie), are sweet girls but not sirens (luckily for them), and Queen Elizabeth’s eldest granddaughter, Zara Phillips, is not a princess, nor even considered “royal” anymore. Like Casiraghi, she’s happiest on a horse; Phillips is a gutsy three-day eventer—jumping fences cross-country, rather than round an arena.
“Eventing,” says Casiraghi, “is way too dangerous. People get killed every year doing cross-country.” She likes the technical precision of show jumping, and she has chosen her sport well, since it is very protective of its practitioners. Casiraghi is surrounded by close-knit, like-minded people. Of all ages, she points out, not to mention all sexes and body types. A jumper could be a big hulking man or a little thing like her. “Most important is to ride light.”
Even so, Charlotte checks all the boxes for newspaper front pages—youth, beauty, background, glamour, and a credible green agenda: She launched an evanescent Web eco-magazine, EVER Manifesto, following a sustainable-fashion project masterminded by Italian fashion doyenne Franca Sozzani. Young London designer Osman Yousefzada says, “The idea was to create a fully sustainable dress,” in his case “made of 30 meters of organic organza,” and Charlotte and her team produced the magazine for it, which appeared as a print edition in Milan and Paris.
Casiraghi’s voice has a suggestion of street-London—drawls and grunts and glottal stops. She is bilingual in French and English and fluent in Italian (“but I am shy in Italian”). Democratically content to win her own honors and earn her own titles, she has ridden nonstop from the age of four. She stopped dead at seventeen and a half, to concentrate on the fierce French public examinations, at which she excelled, courtesy, she says, of the excellent French public lycée system.
Asked where she lives, she wrinkles her brow and says, “It’s so, so hard. I’m a little bit split between three places” (meaning London, where her boyfriend is; Fontainebleau, near Paris, where her coach lives; and Monaco “because my mother is here”). I ask her boyfriend’s name. She says, “Alex.” Alex who? She sighs and says, “You can find his name on the Internet.” Well, of course I can, since everyone in London knows it, and knows he owns and runs an art gallery in Hoxton and is constantly in the shiny sheets. I type in “Alexander Dellal” and find him all over YouTube, at glitzy arenas across Europe where the pretty horses are rising over jumps. They’re a gilded pair: she in her Gucci kit, brow wrinkled, very serious, focused, often talking to her coach; he mostly gazing at her staggering beauty.
And who could blame him?