I hoped not. But I feared recreating a Slim Aarons photo shoot of Sirio Maccioni at his legendary Le Cirque on Tuesday afternoon was being done for the benefit of a reporter, and I’d receive some of the blame if anything went wrong.
In the original 1981 image, Mr. Maccioni is sprawled on his back across several tables, like his tasty ceviche of red snapper, with eight ladies who lunch seated behind him.
In his 80s now, the restaurateur seems as mentally spry as ever, but not so much physically. Indeed, he needs a walker to get around.
I was worried someone would attempt to hoist him onto the table and his storied career, which has included helping launch those of chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Jacques Torres, Bill Telepan and David Bouley, would end in an ambulance ride to the emergency room.
The shoot wasn’t my idea, as I’ve indicated, but that of Exclusive Resorts, a collection of luxury residences, and Leica Camera, which have teamed up with Mr. Aarons’s daughter, Mary Aarons, to create “Shoot Like Slim” photo getaways.
Pictures of the rich and famous taken by Mr. Aarons, who died in 2006, appeared in many publications, including Life and Town & Country. But it wouldn’t do him justice to describe him as a society photographer any more than it would to call Anthony Trollope a gossip columnist. Perhaps more than anyone else, Mr. Aarons’s work helped cement the phenomenon of the “Jet Set” in the public imagination.
This was a community of socialites and celebrities—blessed not only with wealth but also beauty and ravishing style (some of it imported by the photographer, according to his daughter)—who commuted between Palm Beach and Gstaad in the winter, St. Tropez and the Greek Isles in the summer.
Mr. Aarons boasted of being “one of them,” part of a crowd that ranged from Mick Jagger to Babe Paley, but was he really?
Mr. Maccioni, who considered Mr. Aarons a close friend, remembered the time the photographer traveled to his home in Tuscany to shoot him for Town & Country.
“It was the most difficult week of my life,” he said.
(In case you were concerned, a decision was made to pose Mr. Maccioni—with a crowd of Ms. Aarons’s friends and her father’s former assistants replacing the lunching ladies in the original photo—safely seated on his walker in front of them.)
Egidiana Maccioni, watching from nearby, confirmed her husband’s memory. “He drove me crazy,” she recalled of Mr. Aarons, who made her stand for hours holding a black curtain while the photographer shot Mr. Maccioni’s portrait.
“The black background was me,” she complained.
Part of the genius of Mr. Aarons’ work was that—whether the subject was that iconic photo of tuxedoed movie stars Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart sharing a laugh at the bar at Romanoff’s in Hollywood on New Year’s Eve in 1957, or the famous color-saturated “Poolside Gossip” image from 1970 of a couple of casually chic women sharing confidences in front of a modernist Richard Neutra home in Palm Springs—magazine readers felt themselves, if not honorary members of that charmed circle, at least carte blanche voyeurs.
However, the 56-year-old Ms. Aarons, a publishing executive who served as her father’s occasional assistant in her teens and 20s, said the impression the photos gave that her dad was a member of the Jet Set was more cultivated myth than reality.
“We were reminded we were always working,” she remembered. “Don’t get too much of a taste of the good life. He didn’t get too comfortable, too close. He had a more simple, grounded life back home.”
The family lived in Katonah, N.Y., and Mr. Aarons’s idea of happiness, when he wasn’t off to St. Moritz or Capri on assignment, was Chinese food on Friday night washed down with a Heineken.
Ms. Aarons said her father, who grew up on the Lower East Side, considered himself a journalist. Nonetheless, he composed his photographs as carefully as any painter would a canvas.
When he shot the Lichtenstein royal family at their castle in Vaduz, Ms. Aarons remembers her dad giving one of the royals a fashion makeover. “He said, ‘Mary choose something for her to wear.’ We went into her closet and chose an Indian print dress reminiscent of something I’d wear at UVM.” Ms. Aarons said, referring to the University of Vermont, her alma mater.
That doesn’t mean Mr. Aarons didn’t woo the moneyed and influential. His daughter recalls a dinner at Le Cirque around Christmastime in the early 1980s when she noticed a woman across the room with a bouffant hairdo.
“My dad said, ‘That’s Tricia Nixon.’ My dad knew Nixon and he came over to our table to say hello. Which impressed me no end.”
“What did my father have to eat here?” she asked Mr. Maccioni.
“Spaghetti Aglio Olio,” the restaurateur said without missing a beat. “And the chicken paillard.”