Tyre companies can have extracurricular pursuits. First, there was the Michelin Guide for French motorists published by the French tyre-maker in 1900, now the last word on fine dining. Then, in 1963, Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli launched an ambitious public-relations exercise in the form of an annual calendar. The Pirelli calendar has been published every year since then — except for a decade-long hiatus during the oil crisis of the 1970s — and is distributed to valued customers and 20,000 “VIPs, musicians, politicians and royalty”. The calendar came to be known for its artsy softcore nudes and, over the years, its release became an important fashion event. The year’s top models, photographed by the industry’s biggest names, have graced its pages — from Iman photographed by Norman Parkinson to Lara Stone by Mario Sorrenti, and four Naomi Campbell shots in between. But now, in a stunning departure, Pirelli’s 2016 offering features women known for their accomplishments in varied fields.
There is Fran Lebowitz for May, philanthropist Agnes Gund for March, Ariel Investments’ Mellody Hobson for June and artist Shirin Neshat for September, all photographed by Annie Leibovitz, whose idea this new format reportedly was. All the women are fully clothed, save for tennis ace Serena Williams and comedian Amy Schumer. This new direction may fit well with a larger change underway in the US: The importance of the “female dollar” is being recognised, a woman has a realistic shot to head the administration, equal pay has become a loud rallying point, and even Playboy has decided to abandon nudity.
So has the time of the “shero” truly come? Is this a statistically significant breakpoint in the perception of female sexuality, or just a blip? Is Pirelli’s break from the past just another PR stunt, or a change of heart? We’ll have to wait for the 2017 edition to find out.