MILAN, Italy – The Pirelli calendar for 2023 has been unveiled with the theme of “Love Letters to the Muse.”
Sometimes nicknamed “The CalTM,” the calendar is an homage to a group of “extraordinary women,” said Australian photographer Emma Summerton, who led this year’s edition. The calendar shows images of artists, activists, athletes, and innovators. Photographers have referred to it as “the most prestigious calendar in the world.”
This year’s calendar is also very full of recognizable Pagan imagery.
The Pirelli calendar is an annual trade calendar limited production published by the Milan-based tire manufacturer Pirelli. It was first published in 1964, when the featured photographer was Robert Freeman, famously known for his work with The Beatles. The calendar does not go on sale. Instead, the 20,000 copies of the calendar are distributed as a corporate gift to celebrities and corporate customers.
Last year’s Pirelli Calendar was created by musician Bryan Adams. Titled “On the Road,” it featured celebrities like Cher, Grimes, Jennifer Hudson, Normani, Rita Ora, Iggy Pop, Saweetie, Kali Uchis, and St. Vincent.
Previous photographers and creators include Annie Leibovitz, Helmut Newton, and Mario Testino.
Actors such as Penélope Cruz, Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, and Amy Schumer have been featured in the calendar, as have others such as tennis athlete Serena Williams and Misty Copeland, the first African American Female Principal Dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.
Marco Tronchetti Provera, the chief executive of Pirelli, told the New York Times in 2018 that the calendar’s purpose is “to mark the passing of time” by capturing the issues or obsessions that define the current moment. The Times noted that this “in turn, means it’s impossible not to think that this is a moment that demands that this kind of cultural artifact, one with its roots in fetishizing the bodies of women, really upend its own history.”
Many of the early calendars, while artistically extraordinary, also featured a central male gaze that echoed the pin-ups and soft pornography to be expected in a 1970s mechanic’s garage. The Times concluded that after years of scandalous imagery the calendar has taken a progressive direction by making “women subjects instead of objects.”
“The Pirelli calendar is a complex media production,” researchers Katrina Pritchard and Rebecca Whiting wrote of the 2017 edition that, “with [an] impact that extends far beyond the product itself, spreading through the economic system and connecting tyres to art in the process.”
The 2018 calendar featured an all-Black cast directed by Edward Enninful, who became British Vogue‘s first Black editor-in-chief. The 2017 edition was led by German photographer Peter Lindbergh and featured older women in black-and-white photography.
“I work in fashion, I love working with models,” said Summerton in a press release, “but I love a bigger conversation with the models I’m working with about who they are, what they do, what their life is about.
“I think it opens up a different kind of collaboration, which creates a different, stronger image in my mind,” she added.
Summerton noted returning to the word “muse” and the roots of the word. “I’ve been inspired by so many women,” she said. “I’ve drawn inspiration from painting, sculpture, poetry, writing, definitely film, definitely music.”
Many of the images reverberate with a Pagan theme and have a tarot card-like etherealness about them that opens the many possibilities they represent. They also have an energy about them that mirror the magical realism of Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, the Mexican surrealist painters.
“So then it was… not just finding beautiful, amazing models, but ones who have an extra story to tell,” Summerton said. “Muses that have this other thing that they do that we can talk about, that we can explore.”
The subjects in the calendar have also praised Summerton, who wanted to express women’s identities while also capturing images that were “magical, dreamy and emotional.”
Karlie Kloss, who founded the “Kode with Klossy” camp, which aims to get young girls interested in STEM fields, is featured as The Tech Savant. “I think that the reason why I’m in the Pirelli Calendar this year is because of who I am as a person and what I stand for,” Kloss said. In an accompanying video, Kloss added, “I spent half of my life smaller, and I think that when you realize your own power that is the most beautiful that you look.”
Precious Lee, a Black American model who has torn down ideas about size and walked for major fashion houses like Versace, Fendi, and Moschino, said, “I can be everything that I want to be. I don’t just have to be a model. I don’t have to show just one side of myself. I can be everything that I want to be.” Lee portrays The Storyteller, “whose worlds tell of a journey expressed through all media including film”.
Bella Hadid, an American model, portrays The Sprite, “who reveals only as much of herself as she wants you to know.” She said of her performance that “the fairy queen for me means more than, you know a whimsical fairy trying to find her way looking for her prince.
“I think she was more like, ‘I run the show here.’”