In a Radical Departure From Tradition, Pirelli Turns the Page on Racy Calendar


Pirelli Calendar Serena Williams

Pirelli has been releasing racy calendars full of scantily clad models since 1964, including last year’s latex-clad fetish theme. For 2016, however, the Italian tire-maker has decided to go with a different kind of theme—female achievement—and a surprising cast of women to embody that.

Losing the scantily-clad cheesecake, the dozen icons in Pirelli’s next calendar [click here to view] include pop priestess Patti Smith, music/art icon Yoko Ono, tennis superstar Serena Williams, Selma director Ava DuVernay, comedian Amy Schumer, author Fran Lebowitz, 19-year-old blogger turned editor and actress Tavi Gevinson, film producer Kathleen Kennedy, Chinese actress Yao Chen, businesswoman Mellody Hobson, philanthropist Agnes Gund and artist Shirin Neshat.

Williams and Ono have previously been seen without clothes (in ESPN’s Body issue and on the cover of the Two Virgins album with John Lennon, respectively), and they both show some skin for Pirelli, provocative sexual imagery isn’t the goal. Instead, it’s to celebrate feminist heroines with a group of inspiring female icons who are better known for their brains and accomplishments than their looks, although they are gorgeous too.

It’s being shot by another inspiring female role model and icon in her own right: superstar photographer Annie Leibovitz, who hasn’t worked for Pirelli since its 2000 calendar, when she shot more conventional model pics (along with an image featuring Olympic athlete Jacqui Agyepong). The project will be revealed online on Oct. 30 and formally launch with a party in London in November.

As Leibovitz commented to New York magazine about the casting for the calendar, “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. 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.”

Pirelli 2016 calendar Amy Schumer and Annie Leibovitz

“Pirelli is making a bold move, and I was really happy to be part of that,” Patti Smith told New York. “I was happy that Pirelli wanted me. I look at Annie’s project not as a protest but as a celebration. It’s a bold move by Pirelli as well, to do something that’s not expected. And I’ve seen some of the photographs, and they’re very powerful and they’re not lacking sensuality.”

Production began in May, with the photoshoot taking place in July. As Forbes notes, though, while previous calendars have been shot in tropical locations across the globe, this one was shot in Leibovitz’s New York studio.

Pirelli 2016 calendar Annie Leibovitz

Despite letting the stars of its next calendar keep their clothes on, Pirelli has a lot more people interested in just how those images will be presented. Feminists shouldn’t necessarily be celebrating, however. The brand has not exactly given up on the “sex sells” mantra, and still brings Pirelli Girls as eye candy to various race tracks and events around the world. Some habits are just hard to break, it seems.

Pirelli tire eye candy models