The boatloads of tourists in shorts and sneakers that usually invade this picturesque set of islands, located on Italy’s Lake Maggiore, were replaced on Saturday evening by a designer-clad slice of Italy’s upper crust. The chic party goers were ferried over for the wedding of Lavinia Borromeo Arese Taverna, whose noble family has owned the islands for centuries, and John Philip Elkann, the 28-year-old grandson of the late Gianni Agnelli who is Fiat’s vice president.

During a private affair for 60 friends, the young couple tied the knot in a 19th-century chapel on the Isola Madre. The newlyweds then reached Isola Bella, escorted by police boats and helicopters that patrolled the blue waters, and were joined by 700 guests in the 17th-century Palazzo Borromeo for a buffet dinner of dumplings bathed in fondue and truffles, pesto and vegetable pasta, salmon and endive quiches, baby cutlets à la Milanese and roasted lamb.

“This must be the most beautiful house and gardens I’ve ever seen,” gushed one attendee.

The guest list ranged from high-profile tycoons to former models and blue-blooded nobility. Among them were Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Marco Tronchetti Provera, Carla Bruni, Alessandro Benetton, Paolo Barilla, Elle Macpherson, the Rothschild clan, Georgina Brandolini, Paola Marzotto and Eva Herzigova.

“It’s such a pleasant evening — everyone is so relaxed and happy, and Lavinia is so emotional,” said designer Giuliana Cella, who added that the boisterous guests took to belting out Latin American songs in chorus. Not even a three-minute blackout due to a passing thunderstorm could diminish the evening’s magical quality; the Palazzo, bathed in candlelight, was already glowing.

Borromeo’s ivory silk Mikado wedding gown was designed by Valentino to emphasize her slim, delicate figure. The dress was made by 15 seamstresses, who worked on it for 60 days, ruching and sewing 150 meters of exclusive French lace. The lace-bordered veil was fastened with the family’s 19th-century floral motif diamond tiara, while the bouquet of white roses was picked in the gardens of Isola Madre. British master tailors Anderson & Sheppard crafted Elkann’s morning suit.

This story first appeared in the September 9, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I’ve known Lavinia and Jaki since they were kids, so designing Lavinia’s dress was very special,” said Valentino. “She’s the perfect incarnation of true Italian elegance, natural and aristocratic.”

Let the honeymoon begin.