Synonymous with the art of travel since 1854, Louis Vuitton continues to add titles to its “Fashion Eye” collection. Each book evokes a city, region or country, seen through the eyes of a photographer. Slim Aarons’ Italian Rivieras evoke a Mediterranean insouciance, fantasized or real, where charm and worldliness combine.
Slim Aarons’ Italian summers suggest a parade of princesses, duchesses, movie stars, models and wealthy landlords. Alana Collins, Stéphanie Richardson, Lucretia Moroni, Countess Fabrizia Citterio and Count Mitia Guerrini-Maraldi may evoke memories of the past. Some figures remain in the background of an image, like Tony Curtis and his roguish face. But these names no longer resonate, erased by other stars, rich or well-born.
Others won’t care when they open this new opus in the “Fashion Eye” collection about titles and their conditions. They’ll see lustrous, lanky bodies, tanned, firm skins, desirable, lascivious silhouettes. A lot of grace and eroticism, in all that summer suggests of pose, pleasure and festivity.
It was a world apart. I didn’t live through it, and the fantasy remains a long way off. But if the Italian and French coasts are still battling it out for the crown of the Mediterranean seas, it’s safe to say that the golden age of appearances is over. Since then, coasts have been built of concrete, and pleasures have become industries. And tourism has perhaps spoiled – if not made accessible, as it were – the clear waters.
Should we regret this interlude? Not necessarily. As eras pass, their distractions are forged and rebuild. Books are made to tell inaccessible stories. This is the nature of fiction, which can inhabit words as well as the margins of a photograph. “Slim Aarons (A Wonderful Time: An Intimate Portrait of the Good Life, 1975) wrote: “The select and inordinately wealthy lifestyle of the very few that I have been fortunate enough to see and immortalize is disappearing before my very eyes.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, Porto Ercole, Capri and the Almafitan coast all had a sense of novelty and enjoyment, forming a quest for elegance. American cinema and literature were nourished by shores and agape. Musicians’ tours ended in luxurious villas. But more than long-form fiction, it was photography, through the fashion magazines and photo-reportages, that helped anchor the imaginary of gentle (as well as unattainable) lives. With his color photographs, new for the time, Aarons anchored the jetset imaginary in glossy magazines like Holiday.
His photographs, now both iconic and slightly laughable, anchored what he referred to in the title of his first book as “The Good Life”. The gracious life, the life of excellence, the perfect life, the idyll if you will. This era, and above all, this social fringe and its distractions speak of the West’s relaxation after the Second World War. An unconditional need to live. “I felt I was entitled to an easy, luxurious life after all those years of sleeping on the ground, in the mud, being shot at and bombed. The war was over, and I couldn’t wait to forget all that misery.
His work affirms this slobbering desire to inhabit an illusion, to rid oneself of contingencies. “Women have to be beautiful, men have to be handsome”, said Louis B. Mayer. From his eye, there remains a world of gods and pleasures, without the downside of nights and the violence of desires. It’s a world of pleasure and beauty. Fake perhaps, but isn’t fiction always most real?
Slim Aarons – Italian Rivieras
Éditions Louis Vuitton, “Fashion Eye” collection
2023, 112 pages
Edited by Patrick Rémy and Anthony Vessot
Editorial direction: Axelle Thomas
Graphic design: Lords of Design
Available in all good bookstores and online