Pirelli, long a creator of tyres and cables, has risen to fame not for its products but for the calendar that advertises them. Once home to the same skilfully provocative photography that made Playboy famous, the calendar has changed its tune in the last decade. Nowadays, it highlights environmental issues and women’s rights as a reputable piece of artistry, as opposed to a mere catalogue.
This transformation irritates some long-time readers[H1] . Many are quick to blame the #MeToo movement on what they believe to be a shift in the calendar’s tone and demographic reach. While this is not the case, it highlights one distinct transformation in the calendar. Where once it focused on the male gaze – emphasis on the female body as an object – it now gives its female models agency and diversity.
Let’s dive in, then, to the publications that brought this shift about, all while exploring how the 2020 calendar defies expectations in the juiciest of ways.
Photo Robin Wright, known for, among others, the role of Claire Underwood in TV series "House of Cards," on the calendar for 2017 years (Pic. Pirelli / Peter Lindbergh).
What is the Pirelli Calendar?
The Pirelli Calendars are a product originally created by Giovanni Pirelli. They were originally created as marketing material designed to sell his company’s tyres and cables. While the company debuted in 1872, the calendars themselves would not be published until 1962. Styled as a pin-up calendar, the original publications highlighted women in skimpy outfits – or skimpy for the time – emphasising the value of Pirelli tyres.
While the calendar was briefly discontinued in 1974, due to oil shortages, it would be revived in 1984. However, the calendar’s focus drifted from the tyres themselves and onto the models. Subtly became the name of the game, until the tyres were abandoned entirely and the calendar built up as its own Pirelli product.
Nowadays, the company and calendar have both grown. Pirelli employs thousands of people and rakes in trillions of dollars on a year basis thanks to its affiliations with the World Rally Championship and the World Superbike. The calendar, nowadays, represents more than just a product catalogue or women in the automotive industry. It is a piece of art pursued by thousands, due to its limited run.
The work on the calendar is always entrusted to the best photographers. The photo: Peter Lindbergh (pic. Pirelli).
The calendar’s transformation
While the calendar’s change may seem sudden and upsetting to some of its readers, its shift has been happening for a full decade now. Now known as “The Cal,” the photographers and models who find a home in this calendar have the opportunity not only to further their names but to speak on issues that are near and dear to their hearts.
Calendar concepts have evolved over the years. Here the edition released on its 50th anniversary (Pic. Pirelli / Peter Lindbergh).
The calendars released within the last decade, for example, have highlighted a second shift in the artistic meaning of the publication:
2009 saw The Cal release one of its first environmentally-oriented publications. Thanks to a partnership with Life Fate, the calendar was published on lead-free paper and its profits were used to protect forested areas in Costa Rica. The calendar itself featured a number of models alongside endangered species, highlighting the need to protect the environment while also enjoying the fruits of the automotive industry.
2013 saw photographer Steve McCurry create a story about human rights and international revolutions on the pages of The Cal, marrying the glamour of the calendar’s models with international movements. The calendar also highlighted Sarah Moon, Pirelli’s first female photographer to find her place in the production credits.
2019, courtesy of Albert Watson, emphasised the accomplishments of the New York ballerina, Misty Copeland – the first African American prima to dance with the New York Ballet – as well as Laetitia Casta, Julia Garner, and Gigi Hadid. Waston, following in the steps of his peers, deliberately created a story with his photographs while also highlighting the accomplishments of each of his models.
While not all of the calendars published within the last decade have had a humanitarian bent, the number that have is on the rise. This suggests a third era for the Pirelli calendar – transformation from product catalogue to pin-up calendar to socially-minded artistic medium.
The various editions of the calendar were more or less naughty - here in 1996 (Pic. Pirelli / Peter Lindbergh).
The 2020 Pirelli Calendar
Thus comes the 2020 Pirelli Calendar, its romantic theme and the criticism that some less-historically informed consumers have raised over its release.
The 2020 Pirelli Calendar focuses on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” - or, at least, one of the leading characters. Eight different actors and models, as shot by Paolo Roversi, represent different variations of the titular Juliet. These models include:
As emphasised by the cast, Roversi did not restrict himself to a standard feminine display. Instead, Roversi notes that he deliberately brought together Pirelli’s most diverse cast of models, featuring LGBT+ activists and community members, outspoken feminists and international faces as 2020’s potential Juliets.
Gigi Hadid in the 2015calendar (Pic. Pirelli / Steven Meisel).
"I was looking not just for beautiful girls," said Roversi. "I was looking for girls that are their own character, (with their) own personality, independent... like Juliet."
While Roversi’s inclusions have blown modern understanding of femininity out of the water, he’s also ruffled a few feathers. Some Pirelli consumers are convinced that the calendar’s new, inclusive nature is a sign that the skimpy outfits of old have been done away with in exchange for empowerment on the part of Pirelli models.
Put another way, consumers are concerned that the male gaze, which once made objects of Pirelli’s models, is now a thing of the past.
Much of this modern discourse is speculated as out of touch. The majority of The Cali’s photographers are male, and even the most diverse cast is still being objectively viewed at the leisure of a consumer. Beyond that, the Cali has highlighted controversial issues like climate change and international revolution before, suggesting that their sudden change isn’t so sudden.
Let’s, however, put that speculation aside in favour of a deliberate take-away. Car tyres in Pirelli calendars are no more. Nowadays, the calendar wants to serve as an artistic, social outlet – one that, in 2020, is working to give the affiliated models back some of their agency.
This transformation is one of many that the Pirelli calendars have undergone. We shall see where this transformation leads in the publication’s future.
Yao Chen in Pirelli 2016 Calendar (Pic. Pirelli / Annie Leibovitz).
Serena Williams in Pirelli 2016 Calendar (Pic. Pirelli / Annie Leibovitz).
Amy Schumer in Pirelli 2016 Calendar (Pic. Pirelli / Annie Leibovitz).
Anna Ewers - Pirelli 2015 Calendar (photo Pirelli / Steven Meisel).
Pirelli Calendar has grown into a symbol (Pic. Pirelli / Peter Lindbergh).