When I saw that the iconic Pirelli calendar has only chosen to photograph black models for its 2018 edition, at first I wasn’t sure what to think. Ostensibly a means to promote Italian tyres (not the sexiest items, it must be said), for over five decades the Pirelli calendar has been more about showcasing pictures of naked or nearly-naked models.
In the time between Terence Donovan’s first calendar in 1963 and Steven Meisel’s latex-heavy 2015 edition, each of the many photographers had their own style of taking pictures. Nevertheless, the calendar was a high-fashion constant where beautiful, famous women would pose in various states of undress. In 2016, however, everything changed. Vanity Fair photographer to the stars Annie Leibovitz took the reins, and her photos focused less on "beauty" and more on the strength and grace of various well-known women. While some were naked and others close to it, many were not. A year later, Peter Lindbergh took things a step further by showcasing all his actress calendar girls clothed (but still looking windswept and consequently quite sexy), a direction some took as another positive step forward.
Now, Pirelli has gone further still. For 2018’s calendar, photographer Tim Walker and new British Vogue editor Edward Enninful have teamed up for a high-fashion, heavily stylised shoot (as opposed to the simple, striking nudes of the past), all inspired by illustrator John Tenniel’s original Alice in Wonderland sketches from 1864. Another shift, of course, has been that of race; while the Pirelli calendar has typically showcased white women with occasional black and brown models thrown in from time to time (the exception being in 1987, the first time an all-black model line-up was featured), the 2018 all-black cast includes a mix of black faces. Models Naomi Campbell and Adwoa Aboah, actors like rising star Sasha Lane and Golden Globe-nominated Djimon Honsou, rapper Diddy, and even 24-year-old anti-FGM activist Jaha Dukureh will grace the calendar’s pages next year.
What to make of this relatively sudden shift? According to new British Vogue editor Edward Enninful – someone I like mostly because he too is a British-born person of Ghanaian heritage, and it’s nice to see people from backgrounds like mine doing so well – it’s all about making people feel included. “Inclusivity is more part of the conversation than it has ever been before, but it goes far beyond black and white… it is about all creeds, all colors, all sizes and people just living their truths” he stated. Continuing, Enninful added: “A lot of this is about digital giving people voices, and a new generation who refuse to compromise and want answers to the questions that matter to them.”
Yes we’ve got an all-black Pirelli issue, but the creative team is all-male, and the person taking the photos is a white man.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not so sure that an all-black Pirelli calendar is the leap forward that some might feel it is. When it comes to the race of the people involved, diversity in the often very white fashion world is a broadly good thing. However, it’d be a little more groundbreaking if the use of black models wasn’t such an obvious gimmick. To my mind, the fact supermodel Naomi Campbell was in the last all-black Pirelli line-up back in 1987 best shows this. Thirty years have past, and she’s still the most recognisable black model in the UK. During this time Pirelli has only featured a handful of non-white models; it’s clear that an all-black line-up isn’t a sign of true editorial change.
I’d also be better convinced the fashion world was becoming more inclusive if there was more talk about the race and gender of the people behind the camera, as opposed to in front of it. Yes we’ve got an all-black Pirelli issue, but the creative team is all-male, and the person taking the photos is a white man. No people of colour have ever photographed the Pirelli calendar, and in 50-odd-years only three issues were shot by (white) women – two of those, by Annie Leibovitz.
Saying all that, I’m sure there are some black fashion fans who feel truly seen because a major name in fashion has done this. While some argue Enninful is taking steps to diversify fashion from the inside, others say Pirelli is merely following trends as always, and jumping on the so-called diversity bandwagon. While we don’t know what the brand’s true motivations might be, we do know that the Pirelli calendar – next year at least – is going to look a lot more diverse than it did last year.