1 Dec 2016
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Pirelli calendars evolve with a modern makeover

The 2017 Pirelli Calendar has just launched and it’s shocking for all the right reasons, for once.

The 44th edition of the iconic calendar, which is known for its racy, sexy (read: sexist) and controversial imagery, has shifted strategy in a bid to embrace women for their accomplishments, not just their bodies.

The 2017 calendar features black and white images of actresses spanning six decades, from 28-year-old Alicia Vikander, to 71-year-old Helen Mirren. There’s also Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong'o, Charlotte Rampling, Lea Seydoux, Uma Thurman, Kate Winslet, Robin Wright, and Zhang Ziyi, as well as surprise guest Russian professor Anastasia Ignatova. 

The women all appear fully clothed, in some cases without makeup, and the photos have not been retouched.

This year’s calendar, called ‘Emotional’, aims to “conveys personality, sensitivity, and the guts to be yourself”, said photographer Peter Lindbergh.

The idea was "not shoot a calendar about perfect bodies but to capture sensitivity and emotion, laying bare the souls of the women in the images, rendering them more naked that a nude."

Lindbergh said, "I wanted to show women in a different way. As an artist, I feel I have a responsibility to free women from the idea of eternal youth and perfection. Society's ideal of perfection is impossible to achieve”, Lindbergh explained.

"The current system promotes only one kind of beauty that is very connected to youth and perfection because it is a system based on consumption, whose idea of beauty doesn't have anything to do with reality and with women.”

"I think we need to take a step back and realize that this idea of beauty does not help women and on the contrary makes them unhappy. I want 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."

It is a significant shift in strategy for the Italian tire brand, which originally conceived the idea as, “an eye-popping advert for their high-quality products, a freebie that would be proudly displayed and obsessed over year-round by their target market.”

The Pirelli calendar is one of the most recognised and long-standing examples of branded content. This legendary annual creation has helped elevate the tire brand into a household name providing the brand with strong brand awareness globally.

The calendar has featured models such as Kate Moss, Gisele Bündchen, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Adriana Lima, to name a few, photographed in various states of undress by renowned photographers such as Mario Testino, Richard Avedon and.

In the past, it has been described as an “arty soft-core ode to pinups… shot by renowned photographers, starring supermodels, and never sold but given to an exclusive group of 20,000 “V.I.P.’s, musicians, politicians and royalty,” according to The New York Times.  

However, recent years have seen the tides turning as the brand steadily shifted away from the steamy glamour shots to embrace more empowering portraits of women.  From the 2013 calendar by Steve McCurry, which featured subjects for their charity work, to Annie Liebovitz’s 2016 creation, which featured the 77-year-old president of the Museum of Modern Art, among other surprising subjects, the brand has been charting a less provocative direction.

In its move to showcase age and body diversity as well as shifting the focus to women’s accomplishments, not their bodies, Pirelli has shown it is a brand desperate to shed the sexist label and embrace strong modern women.

But for what gain? At a time when even Playboy has abandoned nudity, is the calendar merely trying to evolve and move with the times? Is this shift in strategy a bid to keep pace with the changing social and political landscapes in regards to gender and influence, or is this a response to the rise of the female dollar and an attempt to garner favour with the “fairer sex”? 

Whatever the influencing force, this is necessary move for a brand wishing to stay relevant in a changing world. Where sexy or risque images (or worse) are available at the click of a mouse, the sexy Pirelli calendar is no longer a must-have. 

The days of sexist calendars hanging on the wall in a garage are over and Pirelli is moving quickly to retain the brand’s luxury iconic aesthetic while casually distancing itself from the gratuitous nudity of its past. 


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