A sequestered manor house-resort in the hills overlooking the coast of the Argentario peninsula, this storied 50-room property has long been a favorite of mine. I was therefore delighted to see a new book, “Hotel Il Pellicano” (Rizzoli, 2011), a social, chronologic and pictorial history of a singular place.
The story is told in three parts through the works of three renowned photographers: John Swope, one of Il Pellicano’s co-founders and a photographer at Life; the legendary Slim Aarons, who chronicled the comings and goings of socialites and celebrities for Town & Country and who visited the resort regularly between 1964 and 1971; and Juergen Teller, whose work has appeared in publications such as Vogue and W and who has photographed Marc Jacobs ads for many years.
Insightful essays precede each of the sections. Bob Colacello, a contributor to Vanity Fair, writes “A Visitor’s Note,” which sets the context for the rich portfolio of Swope’s black-and-white pictures tracing the development of the resort — from groundbreaking to opening on June 2, 1965, and beyond — by co-founders Michael and Patricia Graham, two expat Brits who adored the setting near the small town of Porto Ercole. They ran it as a club, and as they themselves said, “We do not advertise, as new clients are referred by guests.”
The real heart of the book, which captures the soul of Il Pellicano, is the large central section that begins with a delightful recap of its history and its evolution to what it is today under owner Roberto Scio, who bought the resort in 1979. Written by British journalist Bronwyn Cosgrave, it is full of glittering names and amusing anecdotes (when Louisa Cooley, wife of Dr. Denton Cooley, who performed the first artificial-heart surgery, met the deposed queen of Greece and learned who she was said, “The closest thing I have ever come to a queen is in a pack of cards!”).
Although the people who came to Il Pellicano in this era were worldly and sophisticated, they also had an innocence that no longer exists. You can see this in their faces in the captivating photographs taken by Slim Aarons, whose stated goal was to photograph “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.” In this engaging collection of rich color pictures, he fully succeeds in detailing the people and places that made up the ethos of Il Pellicano.
This stands in contrast to the photographs Juergen Teller took at the invitation of the Scios in 2009. Whereas the previous subjects seem blissfully unself-conscious, Teller’s are most definitely aware of the camera’s eye. Perhaps this is a function of Teller’s being a fashion photographer, but I suspect it’s more a result of the 24/7, media-mad, narcissistic, I-Tweet-therefore-I-am, attention-must-be-paid world of today.
In total, this book is not only a wonderful, evocative recapturing of a special place, Il Pellicano; it is also a revealing document of how society has evolved over the past 50 years.