Beach Life: Slim Aarons Pays Homage to the French Riviera

Holidaymakers waterski in front of the Carlton Hotel, Cannes, 1958
Holidaymakers waterski in front of the Carlton Hotel, Cannes, 1958 | Photo by Slim Aarons/Getty Images
Cajsa Carlson

Architecture & Design Editor

A new photography book from Louis Vuitton revisits the glory days of the French Riviera through the eyes of Slim Aarons, who photographed the rich and beautiful for decades.

Summer in the City explores what summer means to us around the world.

Speedboats race across the azure water or float languidly next to others in the marina; glamorous, bikini-clad women sunbathe on the beach, eyes hidden behind oversize sunglasses; a man on a moped drives down a sun-dappled, cobbled St Tropez street. In photographer Slim Aarons’s pictures, the sky is always blue.

The latest Fashion Eye book from Éditions Louis Vuitton, the French fashion house’s publishing arm, presents the cult photographer’s shots of the Côte d’Azur as a celebration of the south of France on the 50th anniversary of photography festival Rencontres d’Arles. Seen through Aarons’s lens, the French Riviera from the 1950s to the ’80s is the epitome of elegance and laissez-faire, the photos evoking the feel of a bygone era.

New York-born George Allen Aarons earned the nickname “Slim” because of his lanky build, and he got access to “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places” (Aarons’s own description of his work) because of his reputation as an “anti-paparazzi.” Early in his career, Aarons worked as an army photographer. He turned from war photography to glamorous and intimate portraits of the crème de la crème – movie stars, aristocrats, socialites – and it’s those photos that have stood the test of time and still fascinate viewers today.

Aarons staged his photographs of celebrities and the rich and famous meticulously, but in these Riviera photos, from storied places like Monaco, Antibes, Cannes and more, the settings take centre stage; you can almost feel the sand between your toes. And while the French Riviera is still an attractive destination today, there’s an elusive perfection to his postcard-like photos that can’t be replicated – an unhurried, luxurious holiday feel that’ll make you long for summers past.

Guests lounge by the pool at the Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc, Antibes, August 1976
The beach at Saint-Tropez, on the French Riviera, August 1971
A man rides a moped in St Tropez, August 1971
Guests take their ease at the Monte Carlo Beach Club in Monaco, August 1970
The seafront in Saint-Tropez, on the French Riviera, September 1970
Provence, France, circa 1989
American film star Kirk Douglas waterskis on the French Riviera, August 1969
Vacationers go boating in Monte Carlo, 1975
Young people, presumably of some means, enjoy themselves along the coast in August 1969

Culture Trip’s Summer in the City explores what summer means to us around the world. Discover, among other delights, unlikely summer retreats, US state fairs, the great British seaside and how to re-create an Italian Job-style road trip.

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