Monday 11 December 2017

How the Pirelli calendar got a feminist makeover

It used to be a byword for smuttiness - but the infamous calendar has been reinvented for the modern era

Tennis player Serena Williams
Tennis player Serena Williams
Amy Schumer

Bibby Sowray

Odinarily, the Pirelli calendar is a byword for smutty sexiness, albeit beautifully shot. Flip the cover (if you're lucky enough to be one of the elite few to receive one) and you'll find 12 NSFW images of scantily clad or entirely nude models, often set in a tropical locale.

But for 2016, the world-famous calendar has changed tack and opted for an altogether different approach that celebrates the featured women for their achievements, and not as objects of titillation - something which the calendar is annually accused of.

Partial nudity is still part of the package though, thanks to comedian Amy Schumer and tennis player Serena Williams, who both pose in their underwear for the black-and-white shots - but they are in the minority in this edition of the famed calendar.

It's all down to Annie Leibovitz, the photographer chosen to capture the latest edition, which takes on a book-like appearance this year, detailing the accomplishments of each subject with a paragraph of text.

It was Leibovitz that got to cherry-pick the line-up of women, too. "I thought of women I admired. I still can't believe the women who agreed to do it," explains Leibovitz.

You'll find only one model in the 13-strong line-up of women; 33-year-old Russian Natalia Vodianova, who has already appeared in the calendar a number of times before.

Alongside her is a cast of strong, successful women from fields including music, film, literature, sport and art, with an age range of 19 (writer Tavi Gevinson) to 82 (Yoko Ono) - and they don't get their kit off.

"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," Leibovitz said.

"This calendar is so completely different. It is a departure. The idea was not to have any pretence in these pictures and be very straightforward."

At the press conference, the photographer added: "We need more than 12 months… There isn't a beginning and there isn't an end."

Schumer, wearing just a pair of briefs, was the last subject to be photographed, and Leibovitz thought it funny to portray the comedian as the only one who didn't get the memo about the calendar not being nude-centric for 2016.

"I felt I was more beautiful than I've ever felt in my life," commented the star, 34.

Leibovitz stated that retouching was kept to a minimum for the final images, and summed the collection of portraits as: "No one was supposed to look like they had tried in these pictures."

So who are the 2016 Pirelli Calendar girls?

Yoko Ono, 82: artist

The second wife and widow of John Lennon, Yoko Ono is an established artist and musician in her own right. She is now the oldest woman to appear in the famed calendar, a record that was previously held by Sophia Loren.

Serena Williams, 33: professional tennis player

As the official world number one, Serena Williams is widely regarded as the greatest female tennis player of all time. She recently diverged into a career as a designer and earlier this year showed a collection at New York Fashion Week.

Fran Lebowitz, 64: author

Lebowitz started her career as a columnist for the Andy Warhol-founded Interview magazine and is now known for her sneering social commentary on modern American life. Her style too has become something of a signature; she favours Anderson & Sheppard suits.

Amy Schumer, 34: comedian, writer, producer, director and actress

You'll likely recognise Amy Schumer for her red carpet pranks, which include prat-falling in front of a bemused Kim and Kanye. The comedian and writer starred in her first self-penned film, Trainwreck, earlier this year and has seen her star ascend dramatically thanks to her honest, humorous observations on life as a woman today.

Tavi Gevinson, 19: writer and magazine editor

Gevinson was just 12-years-old when she started winning plaudits for her fashion blog 'Style Rookie' in 2008. Three years later she turned her focus to culture and feminist discussion and founded digital publication Rookie Magazine, which boasts contributors including Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow. She is often cited as one of the most influential people under the age of 30.

Ava DuVernay, 43: director and screenwriter

DuVernay is the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Picture for her work on 2014 film Selma. Her next project will be a fictional account which will focus on the "social and environmental" aspects of Hurricane Katrina.

Natalia Vodianova, 33: model and founder of the Naked Heart Foundation

Discovered while selling fruit in the deprived Russian district of Nizhny Novgorod at the age of 15, Vodianova is one of the world's highest-earning models. A mother of four, she also runs the Naked Heart Foundation, which raises money to build inclusive childrens play areas in her home country.

She is a staunch campaigner for the equal treatment of disabled people in Russia; her younger sister, Oksana, suffers from cerebral palsy and autism and has been the victim of abuse numerous times.

Yao Chen, 35: actress

Chinese actress Chen is the most-followed person on China's version of Twitter, Sina Weibo, and is regularly listed as one of the most powerful women in the world thanks to her vast following.

Just a simple Weibo post by her can raise thousands for worthy causes from her adoring fans.

Patti Smith, 68: musician

It would be hard to find a more iconic figure than Patti Smith and her inclusion in the calendar seems oddly fitting, given her influence. Famed for her songwriting and poetry, she is also an acclaimed writer thanks to her memoir Just Kids.

Agnes Gund, 77: philanthropist, art patron and collector and advocate for arts education

Gund is one of the most prolific art collectors of her generation. Born to a prominent Ohio family, in 2011 she was nominated by President Barack Obama as a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Council on the Arts.

Kathleen Kennedy, 62: film producer

Kennedy is the co-founder of Amblin Entertainment with Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall, and also the president of Lucasfilm and brand manager of the Star Wars franchise. Her body of work, which includes films such as E.T. and Jurassic Park, includes over 60 films and 120 Oscar nominations.

Mellody Hobson, 46: president of Ariel Investments and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Dreamworks Animation

Businesswoman Hobson, who is married to Star Wars creator George Lucas, is often cited as one of the most influential women in the world thanks to her involvement with numerous high-profile oragnisations including the Starbucks Corporation and The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.

Shirin Neshat, 58: visual artist

Iranian artist Neshat works in the medium of film, photography and video and has won international plaudits for her work.

Irish Independent

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