Pirelli’s just-released 2016 calendar demonstrates just how far the Italian tire-maker is willing to go to recast its brand image.
Breaking tradition and stereotypes, the Pirelli calendar, which launched on Nov. 30 at an event in London hosted by actress Cate Blanchett, focuses on 13 women of different ages, backgrounds and careers, all captured in black and white by world-famous American portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Comedian Amy Schumer, tennis champ Serena Williams and other women at the top of their game posed for Leibovitz, reimagining the pin-up in the brand’s limited edition annual “art item” calendar that traditionally features nude or scantily clothed models.
It’s a bold move for Pirelli after 50 years of selling racy calendars along with rubber. The brand, as NPR notes, is “putting ostentatious sexuality in its review mirror—for at least one year—to focus on women’s strength and achievements in new images.”
Unlike years past, it includes women of varying shapes and sizes who are not professional models.
— Yoko Ono (@yokoono) December 5, 2015
“I started to think about the roles that women play, women who have achieved something. I wanted to make a classic set of portraits. I thought that the women should look strong but natural, and I decided to keep it a very simple exercise of shooting in the studio,” said Leibovitz, the only solo woman photographer to have worked on the calendar in more than 25 years. “This calendar is so completely different. It is a departure. The idea was not to have any pretense in these pictures and be very straightforward.”
Of the portraits in the 2016 calendar, only Williams and Schumer are in semi-nude. Schumer’s photo, below, created a stir on social media, posting an image from her photo shoot with the caption: “Beautiful, gross, strong, thin, fat, pretty, ugly, sexy, disgusting, flawless, woman. Thank you Annie Leibovitz!”
“I’m a big fan of comic actresses,” Leibovitz commented. “The portrait of Amy Schumer added a bit of humor. It’s as if she never got the note saying there was no need to undress.”
In addition to Schumer and Williams, the 2016 roster for Pirelli Calendar – 2016 includes pop priestess Patti Smith, music/art icon Yoko Ono, Selma director Ava DuVernay, author Fran Lebowitz, 19-year-old blogger turned editor/actress Tavi Gevinson, film producer Kathleen Kennedy, Chinese actress Yao Chen, entrepreneur Mellody Hobson, philanthropist Agnes Gund and artist Shirin Neshat.
Apart from taking a short break during the recession, Pirelli has been producing racy calendars since 1964. It’s arguably the world’s most famous calendar and one of the most iconic brand marketing franchises, albeit a sexist one depending who you talk to.
The calendars were originally intended to hang on the wall of auto mechanic shops and home garages; now they’re limited edition art book-like keepsakes. Last year’s edition, for example, featured a bondage-like latex-fetish theme including model Gigi Hadid, at right.
Fans and supporters of the new calendar took to social media to express their enthusiasm and delight.
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) December 1, 2015
Vogue‘s retrospective of Pirelli’s calendars over the past 50 years captures the analog time-keeper’s evolution. As Fran Lebowitz quipped in a behind-the-scenes video, “Perhaps clothed women are going to have a moment.”
Photo blog PetaPixel commented that the calendar was “given as a gift to an exclusive group of about 20,000 rich, famous, and powerful people around the world. While past women were chosen for their looks, this year’s were chosen for their achievements.”
What’s not clear, however, is whether this marks a permanent shift in how Pirelli approaches its calendar going forward—and whether a brand that’s clearly trying to sell more tires to women intends to take a more feminist approach to its other uses of models, such as sending busty young women in skintight suits and midriff-baring outfits to race tracks as eye candy and not for their brains. In short, is Pirelli really ready to re-tire its sexist image?
Its Instagram feed attempts to answer the question. Two weeks ago, it posted an image of Naomi Campbell’s bare-bottomed calendar photo from 1995 with the comment, “I was 16 and we shot it with Terence Donovan in Bath. It was all black girls. I remember them having to call my mother to ask if I could be topless.”
Another arty image post two weeks ago as a teaser for the 2016 reveal also celebrated the naked female form with an image from its 1986 calendar of a nude model painted to blend into an abstract canvas and the comment, “The photographer becomes the artist and the photo the canvas.”
The photo below, also posted on its Instagram feed two weeks ago, however, indicates that it is taking a new direction and that the brand is aware (quite literally) of the shadow it casts. A woman looks out to sea while she casts a cartoonish muscular shadow. The caption reads, “The shadow we cast reflects the direction we’re headed toward. Tread #MovingForward”
As Williams and Schumer’s semi-naked 2016 calendar photos indicate, women have the freedom to bare all as Pirelli calendar girls if that’s what they’re comfortable with and if that’s what’s called for artistically. The bigger message seems to be that the brand’s intention, going forward, is to celebrate strong women whose beauty transcends the firmness of their derrieres.
“Between the first credible woman presidential candidate, all the powerful female characters on television from Supergirl to Madam Secretary to Scandal, the pressure for parity in pay, it is impossible to ignore the empowerment of women,” Jennifer Zimmerman, global chief strategy officer for McGarryBowen, commented about the 2016 Leibovitz calendar and new direction (nude direction) to The New York Times. “Besides, who uses a calendar anymore? It has to stand for something else.”