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Slim Aarons: his Life and Hotel Pellicano Holidays

His camera defined a generation of Dolce Far Niente and connects us to our Hotel Il Pellicano history

Hotel il Pellicano. By Slim Aarons

Slim Aarons’ name is synonymous with what we call Il Dolce Far Niente: the sweetness of doing nothing. If you’re familiar with his work, it immediately summons to mind the life of leisure of a golden era’s jet set crowd. Documenting Hollywood stars, European socialites and famous figures from around the world, Slim Aarons captured moments by the pool, in the sunshine, the sweetness of the sixties in repose.

An Auspicious Beginning

Born in 1916 as George Allen Aarons, the man who became Slim Aarons enrolled in the United States Army at eighteen years old. This was a turning point in his life as it was here his photography career truly began. He honed his abilities at the United States Military Academy before working as a combat photographer in what was his first trip outside America. Both his work behind the camera and his exploration of locales far beyond his New York home would become omnipresent in Slim’s life. The photographer famously retorted that “the only beach worth landing on is one decorated with beautiful, seminude girls tanning in a tranquil sun” but his time with the Army did earn him a Purple Heart medal and introduced him to the skill that became his career.

A Glamourous Career

Pivoting from his time with the Army, Aarons joined the emerging travel boom, capturing the glorious images of the jet set at play. Despite the glamour depicted in his work, his approach was very naturalistic. Aarons used no make-up artists or artificial lights, relying on the inherent splendor of the scenes he captured. And opulent they were! In Palm Beach in 1955, he captured his famous portrait of socialite CZ Guest with her son and dogs. A few years later Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart were his subjects. Dressed to the nines in tuxedos, he photographed the leading men of the era candidly. And just as Slim was a welcome figure in the cinematic world, he was celebrated in the design world as well. He commemorated the Kaufmann Desert House, a celebrated architectural gem which was designed by Richard Neutra as a frequent party guest in Palm Springs.

 

Slim Aarons’ work appeared in the pages of Life and Town and Country magazines often. And of course, he hopped ‘across the pond’ in the era’s terminology, often journeying back to Europe. Slim was a frequent figure in Porto Ercole, visiting Hotel Il Pellicano time and again throughout the late sixties, seventies and eighties. His camera was never far from his side and his photographs immortalize a glorious season in the history of Il Pellicano.

Slim and Il Pellicano

Slim Aarons photograpy. Roberto Scio, Hotel Il Pellicano
Touching down in Tuscany for so many decades, Slim Aarons was a guest of former hotel owners the Grahams. He was present to observe the changes to the Hotel when long-time guest Roberto Sciò took ownership of the beloved locale in 1979, expanding the property and adding a Michelin-starred restaurant. He captured the evolving scene down at Porto Ercole’s marina, frequently accompanied sailing expeditions to shoot the coastline and boats, and of course continued to photograph portraits of the region – and Pellicano’s – visitors. The close personal relationships he developed with the people he photographed, and his Pellicano’s hosts, was a tribute to the man’s convivial personality. (The man lunched with Princess Grace on several occasions!) In turn, everyone felt comfortable having his camera nearby, even on vacation. Both posed and candid, those subjects included a who’s who of renowned European and American guests as they spent their vacation time in Tuscany and with Slim. From behind the scenes at Hitchcock’s premiere parties to capturing socialites such as Onassis and Agnelli and movie stars like Britt Ekland at Pellicano, Slim Aarons had access because he was his subjects’ friend and confidant as well as their documentarian.

Il Dolce Far Niente

Slim Aarons’ work lives on on the walls of collectors and in stunning coffee table books that immediately transport you to a time of easiness, warmth and appreciation for the sweetness of doing nothing. It is impossible to imagine telling the story of Il Pellicano without Slim’s photographs; indeed they can be found in the limited edition publication detailing the hotel’s history in images. His images have become synonymous with a nostalgia belonging to a great Italian heyday. Yet, they are also timeless.

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