The Italian tyre company, Pirelli, has published a calendar annually since 1964 and is known as a showcase for iconic photographers to shoot high fashion models normally robed in, rather than disrobed of the YSL. This iconic tradition is presented as a limited edition ‘art calender’, unlike the usual fayre adorning the sooty walls of 70’s car mechanics.
The last decade has seen the company increasingly garner criticism not only for its a regressive depiction of femininity but also for its lack of diversity. For the most part, the women displayed were always three things: white, thin, and traditionally beautiful from a western perspective.
In 2016, Pirelli responded to their critics and began to reformulate their visual codes of femininity. Annie Leibovitz was employed to celebrate women’s accomplishments, rather than purely their physical attributes, featuring figures such as writer Fran Lebowitz, the investment manager Mellody Hobson and tennis champion Serena Williams. For the 2017 version, Peter Lindbergh photographed Hollywood’s most celebrated actresses, fully clothed and without make-up. The pure and unadulterated images of stars such as Helen Mirren,
Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore were obviously a more honest and accessible version of female nudity than we’re used to, “they depict a different beauty, more real and truthful- one not manipulated by commercial interests” said Lindbergh.
I’m somewhat sceptical of this, seeing as the calendar itself is a collector’s item, distributed only to those with enough status and influence to grab the company’s attention- “a group of establishment opinion-makers, celebrities, media professionals, politicians, and chief executives, as well as Pirelli’s most valuable customers” (aka those with power and $$$).
Disrupting the Pin-Up or just smart marketing?
I’d argue that Pirelli, aware of its current existence in our millennial world, heard the knelling bells of male-gaze sexism, felt the winds of change and realized that whilst sex still has selling power, appearing socially aware may have even more value.
Pirelli’s latest incarnation is set to be their smartest move yet: to disrupt the pin-up calendar itself….
The company has employed the legendary British fashion photographer Tim Walker and newly appointed editor of British Vogue, Edward Enninful, to reformulate the western fairytale, Alice in Wonderland -with an entirely black cast.
And what a cast it is: a staggeringly talented and eclectic group of celebrity heavyweights. Alice is played by the South Sudanese-Australian model, Duckie Thot, Lupita Nyong’o plays the dormouse, Whoopi Goldberg is cast as the Royal Duchess, Drag icon Ru Paul makes an appearance as the Queen of Hearts, Naomi Campbell and P Diddy play the Royal Beheaders, feminist activist, newly appointed contributing editor of British Vogue and model Adwoa Aboah has been shot as Tweedledee….
South African, albino model and it-girl of the moment Thando Hopa plays the Princess of Hearts, a role devised for her specifically by Walker. Hopa is a law graduate who worked as a prosecutor specializing in sexual offense cases, who got into modeling simply because she “wanted to have a greater level of representation for someone who looks so different.
” For Hopa, her involvement in the project gave her the opportunity, “to expand other people’s imaginations by not letting them be restricted to specific stories or narratives. Any girl, whether she is black, white, Asian, or Indian, should be able to have a sense that they, too, can be a heroine in their own fairytale. If Alice looks differently here, then Alice can be anybody. Your value comes from far more than the narrative that someone else gives you.”
Diddy says the calendar comes at a time when there needs to be what he called “an unapologetic expression of black pride.” And that being part of the project gave him “a chance to push social consciousness and break down barriers.” Enninful, the Ghana-born, London-bred stylist is the perfect figure to spearhead the artistic endeavour, having won an OBE for his work to diversify the fashion industry in 2016. Enninful said, “given the state of the world we live in, sometimes I think we all feel as if we have fallen down the rabbit hole. For me, a retelling of ‘Alice’ for the modern world was a perfect project, particularly once the cast fell into place.” Tim Walker is the perfect visionary-partner to execute Enninful’s retelling; renowned for his fantastical, fairytale-like editorials, who said he was fixated on the project due to its true originality, “there has never been a black Alice, so I wanted to push how fictional fantasy figures can be represented and explore evolving ideas of beauty.”
Tim Walker is the perfect visionary-partner to execute Enninful’s retelling; renowned for his fantastical, fairytale-like editorials, who said he was fixated on the project due to its true originality, “there has never been a black Alice, so I wanted to push how fictional fantasy figures can be represented and explore evolving ideas of beauty.”
The starting references for the calendar were Carroll’s original illustrations for the story, drawn for him by John Tenniel, which are full of the exaggerated sizing and dramatic flourishes typical of 19th – century British caricature. These illustrations certainly have an aesthetic affinity to Walker’s whimsical photographic style. The behind-the-scenes images suggest that voluminous layers are aplenty, and gone is the super-sexualized styling that characterized Pirelli’s earlier editions.
Perhaps the creative union of Walker and Enninful will replace the male-gaze via a less objectified lens, the faux mannequin expressions replaced with joyful human beings-a powerfully progressive change for pin-up photography.
Adwoah Aboah argues this change in pace is entirely necessary, “To me, the Pirelli change in direction suggests they are observing what 2017 needs, where the youth are going and what kind of imagery should be out there. We don’t need any more pin-up imagery, and this cast really does depict new ideas of what beauty is. And it certainly doesn’t mean not wearing any clothes.”