Departing from a tradition established over 50 years ago, photographer Annie Leibovitz shifts the focus to celebrating women of achievement for the “completely different” 2016 Pirelli calendar.
Since launching in 1964, the famous Pirelli calendar has served as a who’s who of the world’s most beautiful women, featuring glamorous nude or semi-nude photos of top models, actresses and it-girls, including Kate Moss, Gisele Bundchen, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Nadja Auermann, Gigi Hadid, Adriana Lima, Penelope Cruz, Sienna Miller and Julianne Moore, captured by the most illustrious names in photography, such as like Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, Steven Meisel, Peter Lindbergh, Mario Testino, Mario Sorrenti and Patrick Demarchelier, among others. There has even been a collaboration with pop artist Allen Jones, and a calendar shot by designer Karl Lagerfeld.
The calendar has become a collector’s item, being sold at auction for up to $2,000 for a copy of the 50th anniversary edition, and has been commemorated in a number of books, including coffee-table books by Taschen (The Calendar: 50 Years and More) and Rizzoli (The Pirelli Calendar: The Complete Works, 40 Years).
Part of the allure lies in its exclusivity; the calendar is not available for purchase, its limited print run sent only as a gift to a select group of 20,000 VIPs including Pirelli’s top clients, musicians, politicians, and royalty.
Shot by Annie Leibovitz, the 2016 calendar, marks a dramatic departure from the past, shifting the focus from artful nudes to portraits of women of various sizes, ages and ethnicities, each chosen for her “outstanding cultural, professional, social, sporting and artistic accomplishment”.
Annie Leibovitz , who had photographed a calendar of nudes for Pirelli in 2000, said that this time Pirelli came to her with the mandate of “doing something different” and she was more than happy to break the mould. Her vision for the calendar was to showcase women for their accomplishments, rather than their naked forms. Given free rein to cast the calendar, she replaced the usual models with a diverse mix of influential women, each one having made her mark in her selected field, be that philanthropy, art, entertainment, sport, or business. “After we agreed on that, the goal was to be very straightforward. I wanted the pictures to show the women exactly as they are, with no pretense.” said Leibovitz.
Shot in Leibovitz’s New York studio, each woman is captured in a classic black-and-white portrait. The portrait series features women aged from 19 to 82, including actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Yao Chen, model and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova, chairperson of Lucasfilm and Hollywood producer Kathleen Kennedy, art collector, philanthropist and President Emerita of the Museum of Modern Art Agnes Gund (photographed with her granddaughter Sadie Rain Hope-Gund), tennis legend Serena Williams, cultural commentator and writer Fran Lebowitz, business leader and president of the $10 billion money management company Ariel Investments Mellody Hobson, film director Ava DuVernay, blogger and actress Tavi Gevinson, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, artist and activist Yoko Ono, musician Patti Smith, and comedienne Amy Schumer.
A few of the portraits do show some skin: Amy Schumer appears in her underwear – a joke that she missed the memo that it wasn’t a nude shoot – while the Serena Williams shot recreates one of the images of Williams for a Vogue cover, this time without the Donna Karan dress worn in the original photo. Shot from the back, her muscled physique on display, Leibovitz refers to the image as a “body study”.
This is not Pirelli’s first attempt at a “socially aware” calendar: for its 40th calendar in 2013, Pirelli worked with photojournalist and war photographer Steve McCurry to produce a calendar in which the models are clothed, showcasing the various charities they each promote, the idea being to shift focus from their bodies to their causes. However, it is the first time achievement takes precedence over beauty, the models being selected on the strength of their accomplishments rather than the appeal of their looks.
Even the format of this year’s calendar is different: structured as a book, each woman’s portrait is accompanied by a piece on her work and sphere of influence.
Marco Tronchetti Provera, Pirelli’s chief executive, stated that the calendar reflects Pirelli’s current point of view, by presenting “women who have done something outstanding in their lives, from every corner of the world. This represents what Pirelli thinks is beautiful”.
As May’s model Fran Leibowitz put it, in her usual sardonic manner, “Perhaps clothed women are going to have a moment.”