Photographer Slim Aarons summed it up best: “Attractive people who do attractive things in attractive places. His images have for decades been a mainstay of Life, Holiday and other magazines and more recently have filled table books. Slim Aarons: Style (Abrams, $ 85) is the latest; released this month, it contains 40 never-before-seen images.
After serving as an army photographer in World War II, Aarons, who died in 2006 at the age of 89, turned to more sparkling subjects. He was loved by the rich and fashionable: Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Nan Kempner, Babe Paley and glamorous members of the European aristocracy. And yet Aarons has often made castles, villas, townhouses, ballrooms, and ski resorts of this privileged class as such an important part of a story as the people he captured.
Other posthumous volumes of Aarons were confined to specific areas of aspiration: swimming pool scenes, Italy. Edited by Shawn Waldron, curator at Getty Images, this book is the first to declaratively focus on style. Although designers and their work (the long list includes Versace, Lilly Pulitzer, and Oscar de la Renta) have been a recurring theme for Aarons, he never considered himself a fashion photographer. “[He got] this style goes way beyond what you wear, ”says fashion editor and consultant Kate Betts, co-author of the book. “It’s about how you talk and how you hold, who you know, how you entertain and how you set the table. These details are so formative, in terms of actually seeing the fashion. And they often came more easily to classy socialites photographed by Aarons (most famous, CZ Guest) than to others, including movie stars.
The book is organized by season, like the social calendar by which Aarons has organized his work and travels. Spring galas and equestrian events give way to the boating and hunting seasons, followed by ski vacations and winter balls. Timeless quality meets the inescapable fact that the menu has changed. The beach scenes here are in Newport, not the Hamptons or Nantucket. Long before yoga in Tulum, there was backgammon by the pool in Acapulco.
The unpublished images in Slim Aarons: Style Most of it comes from her early black and white fashion work: model Liz Pringle in 1953 in Round Hill, the Jamaican seaside resort she founded with her husband, John Pringle; a 50s New York debutante having her hair done. These photographs extend the scope of the book to nearly half a century. Aarons hung up his camera in the early ’90s, just before celebrities began to monopolize the fashion spotlight. His Kodachrome de la dolce vita images are making a comeback, and not just because they look like a venerable Instagram ancestor.
They come from an era before influencers and a photojournalistic tradition that hardly needed retouching. “The fact that he did it in real time and in real places, with real people, was the most impressive part,” Betts said. “Fashion designers try to recreate [the Aarons world] with models, but it just doesn’t have the same authenticity.
Copyright © 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8