Glamour Shots: 50 Years Later, Slim Aarons’ First Book of Photography Still Tells a Powerful Story

Slim Aarons

Aarons’ artfully composed picture of socialite C.Z. Guest, with her son at her Palm Beach, Fla., estate in the 1950s, from 'A Wonderful Time'. Photo: Slim Aarons/Getty Image (pool)

It has been nearly two decades since Slim Aarons’ death, and precisely 50 years since his first book of photography, A Wonderful Time, was published. But, in so many ways, it is like he never left us.

As a conjurer of glamour and a packager of enchantment, he remains the ultimate archivist of high society. His body of work is the definitive ode to a bygone jet set and an enduring record of the rich at play – from Mustique, to Gstaad, to Monaco and back – which remains a riff on fashion. The DNA of his images is expressed in brands from Ralph Lauren to Phoebe Philo, and in interior decoration; think, top designers like Ken Fulk. 


A Wonderful Time, indeed. His 1974 almanac (pristine copies cost hundreds of dollars on book collectors’ websites), captured a vast array of people and places: the scions of Palm Beach, like the famous Truman Capote swan, C.Z. Guest; storied families such as the Hearsts and Rockefellers; and frozen-in-time figures, à la Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Bouvier, Wallis Simpson and Salvador Dali.

A former war photographer who reinvented himself as an anthropologist of the good life, Aarons was big on mise en place, his daughter, Mary Aarons, told me in a 2017 interview, and believed the setting “should tell the story of the place or person.” As Aarons liked to say: “I don’t call myself a photographer. I’m a storyteller.”

Slim Aarons
Photographer Slim Aarons slouches in a chair with the Acropolis as a backdrop, circa 1955. Photo: Slim Aarons/Getty Images


Ironically, when this seminal book was published, it fell flat. Barely sold. Only with time did A Wonderful Time morph into a cult obsession and forever resource. “I don’t think there’s any American designer who doesn’t have a copy of it,” fashion mogul Michael Kors once said.