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MILAN — In what’s shaping up to be Italy’s wedding of the year, Gianni Agnelli’s grandson and Fiat heir John Philip Elkann, 28, is tying the knot with Lavinia Borromeo Arese Taverna, 26, a member of an aristocratic family dating back as far as the 14th century. The two are set to wed Sept. 4 in a very private chapel ceremony on Isola Madre on Lago Maggiore, an historic island residence owned by the Borromeo clan since 1630. A reception will follow on nearby Isola Bella, another garden-filled isle steeped in Borromeo lore.

True to his reserved form, and eschewing the playboy images of his grandfather and younger brother Lapo, Elkann, who was recently appointed vice chairman of Fiat, has chosen a low-profile fiancée. Far from flashy, Borromeo’s style veers toward sporty casual; she’s often out and about in jeans, simple sweaters, polo shirts and loafers. Her rail-thin figure and long blond hair give her a decidedly regal appearance, one she’s taken to the runway through past modeling gigs with Giuliana Cella and Luisa Beccaria.

Cella, who has known Borromeo and her sisters for several years, says, “I love her as if she were one of my daughters. She’s very, very simple but she has class.”

“She looks like she’s from the Hamptons,” adds another source who dines with her occasionally.

Still, any high-society girl has to glam up occasionally. Borromeo was spotted browsing the racks at a recent Valentino sample sale, and she’s turning to the Italian designer for her wedding gown, though Valentino is mum on even the slightest details.

The dress isn’t the only mystery surrounding the very private Borromeo. Although her storied family’s history could fill tomes — ancestors include a 12th-century Holy Roman Emperor and a 17th-century saint, and their fortune was made in banking in 17th-century Florence — Lavinia’s own personality and interests are harder to pinpoint. The Agnelli-owned newspaper La Stampa reports that she holds a degree in political science from Milan’s Università Cattolica. She’s an avid skier and sailor, like her future husband. She worked as an intern at Giorgio Armani for six months last year, but she’s kept any other aspirations top secret.

This story first appeared in the August 16, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“She’s a girl of few words,” said one acquaintance.

Sounds like the perfect partner for Elkann.

A source close to the family says, “He’s a shy guy who doesn’t want to be in the spotlight.”

— Amanda Kaiser

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