We live in a digital age. That much has long been clear (and oversaid — the digital age is neither a secret nor, any longer, a novelty). It’s an age in which any happy occasion is documented on Instagram with efficient, timely precision. Concerts and house parties play host to a sea of people with one arm stretched overhead, thumb firmly clamped down on the ‘video’ button in order to share the riotous, crowded, deafening scene on their Instagram stories — thus cementing a blurry, haphazard snippet of their night on fellow users’ home screens for 24 hours: until the next gig, or the next house party, and it all starts again.
We capture occasions. Some of us do it better than others, with better filters (or better timing); but we have an inherent need to document the fun, glamorous, ‘better looking’ parts of life. The more ‘stylish’ these parts are, the better. And with that in mind, there are more than a few reasons why Slim Aarons: Style — the latest book to shed light on the renowned photographer’s sun-drenched, long-limbed, luxury-clad images of the world’s elite, authored by Shawn Waldron and Kate Betts — is especially prescient just now.
Firstly, because in a post-lockdown era (and immediately following London Fashion Week), personal style is bursting afresh out of our wardrobes, bigger and better than ever before, Secondly, because — no matter how long we may agonise over the perfect #candid shot or the ideal merging of filters — Aarons always, always did it better; and always will. And it’s for this reason that a book brimming over with breathtakingly glamorous images of — to use Aarons’ own oft-quoted words — “attractive people in attractive places doing attractive things” — is just the thing to add to your bookshelf this autumn.
This is not the first book to be dedicated to Aarons’ world-famous, universally acknowledged talent. Poolside with Slim Aarons, for example, brought us myriad sun-dappled, chlorinated waters, an abundance of lithe, tanned physiques and the opportunity to dive headfirst into a golden age of abundance and wealth, populated only by those who had the money and social standing to be afforded entry. But Slim Aarons: Style is the first book to focus predominantly on the style and fashion at play in Aarons’ work: and in this sense, it’s unlike any other Aarons book to have come before it.
As the book reminds us, Aarons often declared that he was not a fashion photographer; and in the traditional sense, he wasn’t. He focused on people — people, places, activities and, yes, dress. But to say Aarons didn’t prioritise style would be untrue — he did. He just extended and expanded the typical understanding of the word ‘style’, through broadening it beyond the purely wardrobe-related into an all-encompassing, definitive way of being.
"It's called 'lifestyle' for a reason..."
And it’s this holistic definition of style on which Slim Aarons: Style focuses. The photographs are organised seasonally (beginning with spring, and ending with winter), and they span from the 1940s to the 1990s, demonstrating how style evolved across the decades — style that doesn’t focus simply on what clothes the subjects are wearing, but on the sort of lives they’re living, too. It’s called ‘lifestyle’ for a reason — the merging of the words ‘life’ and ‘style’ is no coincidence, gents.
It’s a philosophy we’ve long advocated at Gentleman’s Journal. To be a true man of style, a gentleman should consider his grooming habits and the watch on his wrist as well as the clothes he wears; but so, too, should he consider his etiquette; his home interiors; his travel destinations; the food he eats, and the cocktails he sips; the car he drives; the books he reads — and so on. True style can be particular to a certain sort of life; life can be imbued with chic, sophisticated style. Aarons knew this; and Slim Aarons: Style conveys Aarons’ skill better than we ever could. A picture can tell a thousand words, after all.
In the ‘Spring’ section, for example, Versace and Lalla Spagnole are caught lounging on a yacht, bobbing on the rippling waters of Lake Como; the many-shuttered Villa Fontanelle resplendent in the background. Their clothes are enviable — and, no doubt, influential — but so is the relaxed (almost louche) nature of their body language. They’re utterly at ease in a backdrop that, for many, constitutes paradise. They’re living the good life — and they’re achingly stylish because of it.
‘Sporting Style’ makes its way into Spring, too. Brands such as Ralph Lauren leave no room for doubt when it comes to sport’s influence on style; and in this section of the book, viewers are privy to the myriad styles (and influences) present in the sorts of clothes donned for tennis (at Newport’s Casino, naturally), cricket (at Lord’s — where else?) and polo — the latter of which seems to explode off the page, stylistically speaking, with its bright, bold stripes and abundance of flowing silk scarves; all donned by those with the power to influence thousands, simply by donning the clothes, playing the sport and being photographed by Aarons.
‘Summer’ takes us on a tour of the sort of style seen diving into sun-dappled swimming pools, draped across sun-bleached rocks and reclining on sun-soaked yachts; together with the unique discrepancy between casual daytime dress and glittering evening style when it came to ‘doing the season’ in 1950s Newport, Rhode Island. It also casts attention on the “nonchalant chic” that is French ‘Savoir Faire’: a sense of style nigh-on impossible to emulate, but which Aarons successfully captured on his visits to Cote d’Azur and Monaco, among other sparkling locations.
‘Fall’ zeroes in on — among other things — the very specific details of menswear. In particular, the influential changes that transpired from the 1960s to the 1980s: with minute tailoring adjustments (from jacket collars to the width of ties) being a continual source of fascination to Aarons’ all-seeing eye and a resulting series of photographs spanning from Savile Row to Park Avenue. ‘Winter’, meanwhile, dips into the longstanding societal tradition of black and white balls (integral to both a bygone age of New York high society and contemporary Russell Group universities across the UK) and whips the reader away to Gstaad. Because if you didn’t see in the advent of the coldest, darkest season by sunning yourself on one of the most luxurious ski slopes in the world, did you really do winter at all?
We’ve barely scratched the surface of this glossy, insightful book. It brims over with style insight and a riveting analysis of the impenetrable, enviable, glittering worlds in which Aarons operated; and it offers a privileged opportunity for readers to immerse themselves in decades of influential, nearly inimitable style, and in a world that most of us are only able to access because Aarons, with his lens, opened the door.
So this autumn, dip out of Instagram and dip into Aarons. Your phone screen may be full of stories and photographs documenting the contemporary good times; but Aarons is the best. He’ll always be the best. His legacy is solid and unshakeable — and his eye for style, in the true, all-encompassing sense of the word, was unparalleled. If we had our way, every modern man would read Slim Aarons: Style — because every modern man should be a man of style. And by the end of this book, that’s exactly what he’ll be.
Slim Aarons: Style