»The Cal« to the power of twelve: From pin-up to cultural asset

Men, it's time to be strong: The coronavirus has now reached the Pirelli calendar. The 2021 edition will not be available, the Italian tyre manufacturer now announced. Let's look on the bright side: The anticipation is the greatest joy. That's why we now have an extra year to look forward to - and to take a look back.
Text Bernd Haase
Photo Pirelli

Work on the 2021 Pirelli Calendar has been stopped, the publication cancelled. The Italian tire manufacturer is donating 100,000 euros for the fight against the corona virus and its research. »We will return to the project in due course, together with the people who have currently been working with us on it,« said Marco Tronchetti Provera, Vice President and CEO of Pirelli. This is not the first Pirelli calendar that has not been published. The very first edition in 1963 was cancelled without further ado. In 1967 the Vatican is said to have intervened. And from 1975 to 1983, the oil crisis and recession caused a breakdown.

The Pre-Pirelli Era
There have always been pictures with women in erotic poses - in art. At the beginning of the 20th century they appeared more and more frequently on posters and as postcards. Illustrations to hang up. The pin-up was invented. From then on, erotic images of women served as (sales) arguments from penny dreadful novels to cosmetic products and shower heads. In the Second World War, pin-up girls also served as a motivational aid for American G.I.'s, and in the 1950s, pictures with women in saucy poses and figure-hugging dresses boomed.

1964 - Beatles photographer Robert Freeman makes it easy on Mallorca: Majorca beach, sea, woman, bikini: Who needs tires?
1969 - Even the Vatican couldn't find anything to complain about: Harry Peccinotti stages Californian joie de vivre in a dynamic way.

The false start
In the early 1960s, Pirelli's British subsidiary decided to use pin-ups to boost tyre sales. The concept: Take a female beauty from each of Pirelli's twelve main markets, place her in front of the best-selling product, put these photos in a calendar and give them to all the independent dealers who then tell their customers about the cornering qualities of Pirelli tyres. That's the way they thought it would be in England. At the Milan headquarters, they saw things a little differently. Everything was too flat for them. The project was stopped.

1970 - Paradise Island in the Bahamas: The name of the location chosen by Harry Peccinotti says it all. And because the sexual revolution is on the agenda, the poses are also more explicit
1987 - Dark Desires, the first one: Terence Donovan brings exclusively dark-skinned beauties in front of the camera with Naomi Campbell and Waris Dirie, among others.

The second attempt
The British don't give up. The following year, Pirelli UK Limited hired Robert Freeman, then the Beatles' favorite photographer. He grabs his wife and another model, flies to Mallorca, lets the two ladies pose on the beach in bikinis and does without any allusion to Pirelli and their tires in his pictures. Now Milan likes it as well. The first Pirelli calendar is published in 1964.

1999 - Classic pin-up pose reloaded: Laetita Casta poses for Herb Ritts in Los Angeles.
2007 - Age does not protect against beauty: At the age of 73, Italian acting icon Sophia Loren also had her picture taken for »The Cal«.

The early phase
The new concept is well received. Already in the following year, the Christmas giveaway becomes a coveted collector's item. But this also brings other institutions onto the scene. The 1967 calendar is cancelled, probably due to the intervention of the Vatican, for whom all this is too permissive. Protests hail down. In 1968, a new calendar was published. And with the spirit of the sexual revolution, everything became more permissive, clothing became scarcer, poses more explicit. Not always for the better.

2008 - Stylistically confident, exotic, nostalgically transfigured: this is how Patrick Demarchelier stages Mon Wan Dan, among others. Only the title does not really fit: »Pearls of the Orient« sounds, at least today, more like a coffee cruise for old white men than a sensual sensory rush.
2011 - Divine: Karl Lagerfeld creates gods, heroes and myths of antiquity in 36 photographs. Elisa Sednaoui becomes the Roman goddess Flora, the mistress of flowers, trees and all other plants.

Compulsory break
The 1974 calendar is actually intended to be an artistic firework display in a circus setting. But in the aftermath of the oil crisis, the economy stutters. Since the Seychelles are still cheap at that time, it is time to go to the beach instead of the circus. As a photographer, the Swiss Hans Feurer is brought out of retirement. The result sorts itself somewhere on the level of photographic wallpaper. It was all the rage at the time. But not necessarily artistically valuable. The production of the calendar is then discontinued.

2013 - Real life: The photo journalist Steve McCurry usually finds his motifs on the streets and in the crisis areas of this world. He also stages top models like Isabeli Fontana here in Rio de Janeiro - namely as little as possible.

Early 1980s. Times are still difficult. Nevertheless, in 1982 the Pirelli board of directors decided to publish a calendar again. It was meant to be a positive sign. Look here, it's progress. But not in an artistic sense. The German advertising photographer Uwe Ommer had his models painted with the profile of the Pirelli P6. What is supposed to appear artistically, looks like a clumsy advertising message. Presumably the New York Times has these photos from the 1980s in mind when it speaks retrospectively in 2018 of the »upscale porn collector's item« that has become a cultural barometer.

2017 - Superwomen instead of supermodels? Not quite. Besides Yoko Ono, Amy Shumer or Serena Williams, Annie Leibovitz also has a top model in her selection: Natalia Vodianova.
2018 - Dark Desires, take two: Tim Walker staged his Alice in Wonderland exclusively with dark-skinned beauties, like here Duckie Thot.

The return
In the course of the eighties the tire tracks disappear from the calendar again. This is followed by what has consolidated the reputation of the calendar as a cultural barometer over the past 30 years. Until the first decade of the 21st century, this is the glamour of supermodels such as Gisele Bündchen, Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss, staged by Mario Testino, Annie Leibovitz or Peter Lindbergh. In addition, the calendar is given a nickname compatible with marketing with »The Cal«.

2019 - Dream worlds: Albert Watson lets confident women dream, like here Laetita Casta in a gaudy seventies setting.

In 2011 Karl Lagerfeld will then stage 20 female models and the actress Julianne Moore in strict black and white as figures from ancient mythology. For the first time, men will also appear. The themes become more complex, diverse and meaningful. In 2016 Annie Leibovitz brings strong women who have achieved something in life as imperfect personalities in front of the camera. In 2018, Tim Walker stages exclusively dark-skinned women as »Alice in Wonderland«. Last year, Albert Watson's »Dreaming« is the perfect answer to the MeToo debate with art images that focus on the personality of the women photographed. And for the 2020 edition, Paolo Roversi, the first Italian behind the camera, draws inspiration from Shakespeare.

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