Monday 27 May 2019

Pirelli nudes hear the death knell as body diversity and gender fluidity take control

Pirelli and Victoria's Secret are struggling against the modern definition of sexiness, writes Sophie Donaldson

Nicole Kidman as she appears in the Pirelli 2017 calendar
Nicole Kidman as she appears in the Pirelli 2017 calendar
A model at the Victoria's Secret 2017 show
A model at the Victoria's Secret 2017 show
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

With both the annual Pirelli Calendar and Victoria's Secret fashion show unveiled just days apart, we should have spent the last week sandwiched in a battle of the breasts.

Instead, both brands were both hastily zipping up their trousers, their corporate strategy flailing as the world begins to reject their spin.

Having spent a combined 65 years crafting an incredibly narrow definition of sexiness, the gloss on both veneers is wearing thin.

We are currently experiencing the fourth wave of feminism; the age of gender fluidity, lady gardens and body diversity. It has become apparent that big boobs just don't have the same selling power these days.

The Victoria's Secret fashion show and the Pirelli Calendar have both peddled an identical representation of female sexuality to build their brand. For decades, nobody baulked. But now, they are both scrambling for relevancy in this brave new world in which a big-boobed, thin-hipped white woman is no longer the singular definition of female attraction.

Along with a bevy of other brands, such as Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign and Vogue's 'Real Woman' issue, they must dig deeper. Both Pirelli and Victoria's Secret are swapping airbrushing for authenticity, but are going about it in entirely different ways.

The Pirelli Calendar, produced by the Italian tyre company of the same name, has been an annual offering for the past 44 years. Until 2014 it brimmed with nudity, each month's page featuring a nubile model in varying states of undress.

The Pirelli Calendar's new approach is a 360 degree swivel on the (body) type of woman on its pages. Gone are the big-bosomed women with the tiny waists. In their place are sportswomen, septuagenarian actresses and even an academic, admittedly a very good-looking one.

It began last year when lauded fashion photographer Annie Leibovitz chose to photograph Serena Williams with her rippling back muscles and actress Amy Schumer with her rippling belly rolls. This year photographer Peter Lindbergh, who has lensed the calendar three times now, upped the ante.

His models of choice are all successful actresses ranging from 28 to 71 years old, featuring the likes of Charlotte Rampling, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore. Make-up and airbrush free, the portraits strive to "make a statement for a different kind of beauty" says Lindbergh, who added that he wants to "use the Pirelli platform to send another message and the message is that beauty is much more than what we are used to seeing in commercials".

Now in its 21st year, the Victoria's Secret fashion show has always been about one thing: beautiful women in tiny knickers. For an undergarment company, this is a logical if not staid approach.

Its unique selling point, however, was a catwalk bonanza with the most beautiful, elite and aspirational models on earth. The Supers of the Nineties all walked in their smalls for the brand, followed by Gisele Bundchen and Tyra Banks in the early 2000s.

In the relatability stakes, supermodels fare the worst. Rather than taking the Pirelli route and replacing them with 'real' women, Victoria's Secret is attempting to leverage social media to make their models, and brand, accessible to the masses.

The result has been a shrill storm of Snapchats, Instagram photos, behind-the-scenes selfies and hashtags to #trainlikeanangel, a steady visual documentation of the Angels' every move.

We've seen them work out at the gym, sitting on the plane en route to the show in Paris, sightseeing around the capital and prepping backstage.

It used to be the final, glossy, televised product that we got. Now, it's a social media circus drenched in hyperbole with every catwalk look released days before it airs, all rendering the televised show rather pointless.

Both brands traded in exclusivity. Pirelli by strictly limiting the number of calendars produced, and Victoria's Secret by employing the best models and crowning just a few with wings - but in 2016 diversity and inclusivity are the order of the day as body type, gender, and sexuality are no longer defined as right or wrong, male or female, straight or gay.

While both are careering in opposite directions, it is not yet clear whose method, if either, will come out on top. In what is surely the death knell of a nude calendar, Uma Thurman is pictured wearing a turtleneck jumper and has labelled the photoshoot a "feminist statement".

Things are not quite so radical over at Victoria's Secret, however, for whom chunky knitwear and cries of feminism would surely strike a bum note indeed.

Sunday Independent

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