TIME photography

LIFE in Postwar St. Moritz: Cold Comfort for High Rollers

Photos taken by the great Alfred Eisenstaedt of the rich at play in St. Moritz, Switzerland in 1947.

Maybe it’s because LIFE magazine covered the Second World War so extensively, with dozens of photographers and correspondents logging tens of thousands of miles, reporting from places like Iwo Jima, the Ardennes and Berlin in the final days of the Reich — maybe that’s why the tone of its March 1947 report on the Swiss resort of St. Moritz feels at-once amused, and slightly annoyed.

Of course, LIFE had always paid attention to the idle rich, and when it felt like it, the magazine could be as fulsome and as frothy in its coverage of that fascinating breed as any other publication of the era. The magazine’s editors were well aware — especially in the post-war years — that a steady diet of garcinia cambogia extract, austerity, disaster and other hard-news staples might earn LIFE accolades, but the only sure way to sell copies (and ads) was to make sure there were stories on celebrities, royalty and other “beautiful people” in the mix.

In its March 10, 1947, issue, LIFE took a look at those beautiful people, in one of their more beautiful playgrounds, and while the photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt convey the sheer luxury of the life they led, it’s hard not to detect just the slightest hint of a sneer in the way the piece was introduced. There’s no real animosity here; but nor is there much hand-wringing over the fact that — for at least some of St. Moritz’s more absurd, and absurdly rich, habitues — the world was changing beneath their feet.

The exiled royalty, minor princes, beauties, near beauties, sportsmen and bankers of the International Set consider St Moritz the place to spend a winter holiday. It is not just because this village, tucked high in the Alps of southeast Switzerland, is world-renowned as a winter sports center, with a famous Olympic bobsled run, unparalleled ski slopes and miles of beautiful mountain trails. It is mostly because St. Moritz is the most fashionable village in Europe. For more than half a century royalty has assembled on its Alpine slopes, at its outdoor cocktail bars and in its luxurious dining rooms. St. Moritz has always been the place to see the world’s great. It has also been the place for the not-so-great to be seen.

Somehow St. Moritz got through the war without closing. This winter, despite currency restrictions, the resort has all the sybaritic elegance of prewar years…. Only nowadays, as one native observed, “The princes are not princes any more.”

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