Since it was launched in 1963, the Pirelli calendar, an annual publication from the Italian tire company, has traditionally featured famous top models, typically all white, skinny women in little to no clothing. But in the past few years, the brand has shifted course from perpetuating an archetype in the fashion industry to taking on its issues — and making major statements.
For 2018, fantastical photographer Tim Walker and new British Vogue editor Edward Enninful, chose an all-black cast for a modern take on Alice in Wonderland. The resulting shots feature big names including Lupita Nyong’o, Whoopi Goldberg, and other influencers from “the underground universe.”
Naomi Campbell takes on the role of the Royal Beheader in a bondage twist on Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts, and Sean “Diddy” Combs is by her side in a — fittingly — puffy scarlet coat. Meanwhile, model Adwoa Aboah poses as Tweedledee, Slick Woods is the Mad Hatter, Lil Yachty is the Queen’s Guard, and more.
The resulting shots feature these 17 individuals in dramatic scenes, futuristic clothing, and settings complete with burnt toast and moldy jam tarts.
The calendar release comes at a time when diversity is being addressed in fashion — and is on the rise. According to a report from the Fashion Spot following Fashion Month in February, 27.9 percent of the models are minorities, which is the highest amount ever since the blog began recording data about three years ago. Additionally, Enninful made history as the first black editor of Vogue.
“Inclusivity is more part of the conversation than it has ever been before, but it goes far beyond black and white,” Enninful told the New York Times. “It is about all creeds, all colors, all sizes and people just living their truths. 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. Given the state of the world we live in, sometimes I think we all feel like we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. For me, a retelling of ‘Alice’ for the modern world was a perfect project, particularly once the cast fell into place.”
Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time Pirelli has chosen an all-black lineup. In 1987, a 16-year-old Campbell appeared topless in an edition. Even though the concept isn’t groundbreaking, lawyer turned model Thando Hopa, who appears in the 2018 calendar, admitted to the Guardian that she did have reservations about it. “[Tim Walker] said any person with a different color should be able to see themselves in any way,” she said. “So any girl, whether she is black or Chinese or Indian, they should be able to have their own fairy tale.” Hopa added, “This is an important step in culture development — to push images that aren’t generic, that don’t conform to stereotypes.” Personally, Hopa doesn’t find it controversial. “I think people really should see the end goal and not obsess in the myopia.”
The radical 2018 calendar comes after two years of feminist progress. In 2016, photographer Annie Leibovitz was enlisted to subvert the calendar’s message. She did so by churning out gorgeous black-and-white shots of strong women from the worlds of sports, art, and culture. Last year, Peter Lindbergh captured Hollywood’s top women, including a fully covered Nicole Kidman and Uma Thurman. Each photo was unretouched, showing the actresses in all their natural glory.