The Pirelli Calendar. Does it need any introduction? World-famous but exclusive, it is only available to a selected list. But that hasn’t stopped it being acclaimed and looked at by everyone. Beautiful women want to be in it, fantastic photographers want to work on it.
Everyone’s already talking about the 2016 Calendar – or, as people call it, The Cal™ – which will be shot by Annie Leibovitz and will star tennis legend Serena Williams. So excited was Williams, that she broke the news on Twitter a full two months before the calendar is released: “I am so happy to be part of the next Pirelli Calendar!!”. The 2016 line-up features key cultural figures including the comedian Amy Schumer, artist Yoko Ono, singer Patti Smith, actress Yao Chen, director Ava DuVernay, Fran Lebowitz and teen style writer and blogger Tavi Gevinson.
The Cal™ seems to have unerringly captured the world’s most gorgeous women at their most lovely.
The Cal™ is known for its raciness – the nipple count has sometimes been quite high, but the 2016 edition will join a handful of previous calendars with no naked women, including Patrick Demarchelier’s edition in 2008 and Steve McCurry’s in 2013. With clothes or without, the Cal’s aesthetic position is incontestable and puts it in a league of its own. That’s why the world’s greatest photographers have lined up to work on it. Running your eye down the list, there they all are. It is like a roll-call of the art-form’s best exponents.
Leibovitz herself has already done a Cal (in 2000), but her peers are there too –
Herb Ritts, Mario Testino, Bruce Weber, Richard Avedon – and also the greats from the past, like Brian Duffy, Terence Donovan, and Norman Parkinson to name but a few.
The Cal™ has of course featured a few men. A few. But it’s the women for which it is rightly famed. Every year, they are depicted beautifully, artfully and, well, quite sexily. Why not? This is an Italian company, after all. The Cal™ seems to have unerringly captured the world’s most gorgeous women at their most lovely. Kate Moss (in little more than beads), Helena Christensen (in little more than coconut shells), Lou Doillon (in little more than a shirt). It’s not just supermodels who are showcased, either; actors from the iconic Sophia Loren to the likes of Sienna Miller and Daryl Hannah have all stepped up to appear as a month in the Pirelli calendar.
It’s very artistic and upmarket and it really shows the style of the times
And there have been women who are just, well, gorgeous. In 1969 photographer Harry Peccinotti (who also shot the 1968 calendar), simply went on the beach at Big Sur in California and used amateurs.
Of the moment
“It’s very artistic and upmarket and it really shows the style of the times, not only by using a huge range of photographers, but also in the way it shows the female body,” says leading London portrait photographer Francesco Guidicini. “My favourite? The Herb Ritts calendar shot in the Bahamas. Amazing.”
Style of the times? Of course, both in its depiction of the female body and in its own history, the Pirelli Calendar is a very accurate barometer. It started in 1964 and showed off the swinging Sixties in all its democratic glory; no famous models, no fuss, it brilliantly reflected the way world’s focus had changed in its choice of bohemian locations - Majorca, Jamaica, Tunisia, and California - over ‘old world’ capitals.
Rise of the supermodels
Publication was interrupted in 1974 due to the world oil crisis, but the calendar returned in 1984. It featured discreet references to the product such as tyre tracks in the sandy beaches of the Bahamas where models were photographed by Uwe Ommer. In 1987 Terence Donovan’s calendar featured only black models including a 16-year-old Naomi Campbell at the start of her career.
By 1994, The Cal had changed again. No product references, huge amounts of artistic production, and a phenomenal line up of supermodels as Herb Ritts went to the Bahamas to photograph Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen, Kate Moss and Karen Alexander. It was the start of a new era of artistic freedom for photographers, models and the Pirelli Calendar.
The Calendar takes a year to happen; the concept is dreamed up at the start of the year, the shoot is normally in late spring, and the much garlanded, glossy launch is always in November. The images may appear in Pirelli garages across the world but for sure they have been the subject of countless books, museum displays and exhibitions; they belong to the history of photography.
One thing however is constant. The Pirelli Calendar will continue to hold a unique position as an expression of freedom, beauty and pleasure.