Since its inception in 1963, the Pirelli calendar has been known for its soft-focus, glossy nudes celebrating some of the world’s most beautiful women. Famous photographers and models, including Norman Parkinson, Herb Ritts, Helena Christensen and Kate Moss have collaborated on the project, which has an extremely limited print run and is actually unavailable to buy (instead, it is gifted to friends of the Italian brand).
This all changed however in 2015, when the house made a major volte-face casting-wise. Instead of the usual roll-call of long-limbed, achingly beautiful models, the line-up shot by Annie Leibovitz featured women who had accomplished something important in their fields – whether it was tennis ace Serena Williams or multi-talented artist Patti Smith. After all, 12-pages of half-dressed hotties sort of felt a bit, well, dated.
Then, in 2016, rather than return to its tried-and-tested formula, it continued to switch it up. This time round it opted to shoot celebrities including Jessica Chastain, Alicia Vikander and Lupita Nyong’o warts and all – with no retouching whatsoever. Sure, it might not have been as daring as its previous year’s incarnation, but it was great to see that Pirelli was still keen to push the envelope with something a little different, especially with recent pressures on magazines to stop retouching so much.
Now, it’s the turn of an all black line-up for 2018, with Adwoa Aboah, RuPaul, Whoopi Goldberg, Lupita Nyong’o and Naomi Campbell being just a few of the high-profile names on the cast, which reads like a who’s-who of black royalty. Interestingly, it’s not the first time that Pirelli has featured a line-up of exclusively black models – although the 2018 version is leaps and bounds from the hyper-sexualised 1987 edition (which also starred Campbell, natch).
The men at the helm are photographer Tim Walker – known for his whimsical, ambitious sets, and Edward Enninful, incoming British Vogue editor and the mastermind behind Italian Vogue’s 2008 all-black issue and the anti-Trump ‘I Am An Immigrant’ campaign. Taking Alice in Wonderland as its theme, it riffs on the idea of beheading old cultural stereotypes and associations and rushing in a new order – something that has been particularly poignant this year.
Not only has diversity been more of a talking point than ever in the fashion world – see the appointment of Enninful, more black models on the runway than ever before and Gucci’s all-black pre-fall campaign, but it has also been prominent in other spheres – most notably in the film world, which responded to its #OscarsSoWhite controversy by being more inclusive than ever in 2017 (six black actors received acting nods and Moonlight won best picture).
While the intentions of the team behind the calendar can’t be faulted, there are cynics out there who will say that diversity is just a passing trend – something that grabs headlines in 2017 and which may be out of fashion just as quickly. Yet as Pirelli continue to seemingly capture the zeitgeist of the moment in its calendars, can we be hopeful that the tide is turning against the white-washing of fashion? Enninful hopes so. ‘Inclusivity is more part of the conversation than it has ever been before, but it goes far beyond black and white,’ he told the New York Times. ‘It is about all creeds, all colours, all sizes and people just living their truths. A lot of this is about digital giving people voices, and a new generation who refuse to compromise and want answers to the questions that matter to them.’