Is the Pirelli Calendar sexist?

Posted by: Meghan Byrne on 7/02/2012

Category: Community

Pirelli are famous for making some of the best performing tyres in the world. Their contract with Formula 1 shows just how prestigious their racing pedigree is, and this has followed into the retail tyre market with great justification. In addition to making world beating tyres Pirelli are well known for one of the most exclusive calendars in production. Featuring high-end fashion models, famous actresses and exotic locations, the Pirelli calendar cannot be bought and is in very high demand. We posed the question to guest contributor Meghan Byrne, in this day and age, is the Pirelli Calendar sexist? Here's what she had to say.

When one thinks of girlie calendars it is inevitable to draw up tacky pictures of peroxide blondes hanging awkwardly in unnaturally provocative poses from mechanic shop walls. The models are pinned into harsh overexposed light with the picture serving as inspiration for greasy mechanics to get through their day and bring home the bacon in the hope that after dinner there may be a hard earned side plate of sorts.

This is precisely why the Pirelli calendar is so surprising. When one of the most prestigious companies in the world employs world class photographers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Terry Richardson to shoot pictures of well known super models and actresses in provocative poses that personify each month of the year, does this socio-political pedestal automatically elevate an accustomed smut format to some greater level?

Well, automatically, no - but ultimately the decision is yes. There is something altogether different about these girlie calendars, from their swinging inception in 1964 to the present day release, shot by Mario Sorrenti for 2012.

So what distinguishes this tyre company’s calendar from preconceived notions? If it’s not just the adorning of household names such as Monica Bellucci, Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Miranda Kerr (and the very real fact that it cannot be purchased but is preserved solely as a prestigious gift to VIP affiliates and friends) what more is there? Monica Bellucci at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2007.

It may be explained by Mario Sorrenti’s interview in the video below where he's asked about the brief he was given by Pirelli for his year of 2012 and responds with, “to create something beautiful for us.” Well, beauty is a perception of course and the perception here is of the power held within these astonishingly striking women.

Placed amongst the natural elements of Corsica, the sensuality in each image is encapsulated by the natural beauty of the surroundings and the models’ poses point to each picture being unique, showcasing women that are actually interesting in their individual beauty. In this way they become, as model Natasha Poly tells us, “the perfect example of woman.”

As Tuning News wrote in their 2007 web article “The cal has always been a synthesis of bringing together innovation and respect for values and tradition.” This desire of Pirelli's to produce a calendar that says something more than the obvious was clearly illustrated in 1972 when they employed photographer Sarah Moon who produced an “overly romantic” issue. The shoot featured soft light and drapery, presenting all the tender aspects of woman in selective colour and sepia tones, lounging gracefully in petticoats and 1920s garb with girlfriends.

This direction was emphasized again some years later in 1989 by another female photographer Joyce Tenneson, who also brought us femininity in an unabashedly pure form, depicting each month’s Astrological star sign as an angelic nymph.

Karl Lagerfeld, the artistic director and head designer for fashion house Chanel, sculpted photos stylistically reminiscent of Arthur Elgort's 1990 black and white issue for Pirelli that celebrated the Grecian Olympic form in all its strength, power and beauty - with women wrapped in leopard loin cloths captured in the midst of strikingly athletic movements.

Julianne Moore at the Venice Film Festival. Photo by Nicolas Genin.Lagerfeld’s black and white issue went for ‘Mythology’ as his thematic edge - the Greek and Roman kind. As he explains it “I love the goddesses, they were the first emancipated women. They had a right to everything. The female divinities and the muses are feminists.” His year of 2011 also features a male model along with his good friend, actress Julianne Moore, in her mature age showing not just an idealistic view of femininity but also an elegantly realistic one. 

In  2008 the Pirelli calendar created by Patrick Demarchelier (personal photographer appointed by Princess Diana for ten years until her death) was picture perfect in pure form and composition, set entirely in Shanghai and paying homage to the Chinese in a gorgeously Kitsch and fun style. Culture was highlighted here with all the trimmings  paying tribute to women stylistically, presentation and grooming as  key.

Yes, Terry Richardson’s year of 2010 certainly alludes to the more accustomed girlie calendar of the past but his signature style brings a cheeky humour to it, with selected girls sporting not much cloth but instead sloths, swords, fruit and the occasional rooster. Although this calendar bares all, a strength of character shines through from the models that shows something of their personalities and ultimately leaves the power in the hands of the woman.

So essentially for me it comes to that. Why is the VIP Pirelli calendar a different breast to the rest? It’s because, as Milla Jovavich says in the Making of 2012 video, “It’s sex appeal and emotion… this relationship going on between these really strong tyres and these really strong women.” Women that are not being reduced to victims of horrendous fashion in fishnets and latex pink bikinis, left powerless to puckering and panting poses from demeaning angles. These women are celebrated in a very sexual and revealing way but the power is left in their hands and as a woman that’s stimulating not just sexually but intellectually.

Meghan specialises in the weird and wonderful world of Art and Design. Meghan completed a Bachelor of Design (BDES) at the College of Fine Arts (COFA) in 2006. She is currently a practising Artist working in detail on original images in acrylic and oil on canvas and is also completing a Bachelor of Art Education (SAED) also at COFA. Looking to the future Meghan will be the co-director of Slate Gallery opening in 2012 and an avid supporter of creative individuals that continue to enlighten our vision with new imaginations.