Why you might actually want the latest Pirelli calendar

This year, the calendar — famous for featuring barely dressed models — snapped notable women doing things rather than being things

This is how legendary photographer Patrick Demarchelier summarized a model’s typical reaction to booking the prestigious Pirelli calendar: “Every girl we ask says yes.” Now let’s contrast that with the response from American humourist Fran Lebowitz, who received her own invite earlier this year: “I thought it was a joke.”

Since the Italian tire company began peddling its very sexy, very skimpy calendar in 1964, selected “girls” have included lithe wonderbodies like Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell in various states of undress — or, in the case of last year’s edition, straight-up bondage. But in a remarkable switcheroo, the 2016 edition — unveiled in its entirety in London on Monday — features a lineup of women known more for their career achievements than their ability to look particularly doable when draped over a rock. Powerhouses in the latest calendar include punk troubadour Patti Smith, tennis great Serena Williams, millennial media sensation Tavi Gevinson, Yoko Ono, and Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma.

Pirelli’s pivot nicely dovetails with two modern cultural shifts:

1. We now have to work hard to keep physical calendars relevant.

2. What’s relevant now is portraying women as agents rather than objects. (You may recall Playboy’s surprising recent decision to nix its nudes.)

Heck, every month in Pirelli’s 51st calendar even includes a paragraph dedicated to each woman’s work and significance, an addition that might have seemed out of place in your dad’s garage just a few years ago. “I started to think about the roles that women play, women who have achieved something,” said photographer Annie Leibovitz, who helmed this year’s shoots. “I thought that the women should look strong but natural….It shouldn’t be a big step, but it is a big step.”

Of the 12 inclusions, comedienne-of-the-moment Amy Schumer (a.k.a. Miss December) and Williams are the only two women who opted to disrobe, with Williams lunging purposefully in black underwear, and Schumer mock-obliviously sipping her Starbucks as Leibovitz snapped away. But for all the buzz and luxury around the annual release — one so popular it merited its own coffeetable book — the tack of this year’s product is pretty humble, according to Schumer: “I felt like it looked like me.”

Photo gallery: 7 days, 15 photos

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.