Last year, I wrote about Pirelli turning over a new leaf; its 2016 edition had come on the heels of Playboy announcing that it would no longer feature nudity. What a winter of discontent, I said, for the meninists, won’t someone please think of all those poor men fighting for a world where old white dudes can hold more power economically, socially, and politically? It seems the universe is not a fan of gentle sarcasm; the meninists have had the last laugh.
They might’ve taken America, but by Jove, they won’t have Pirelli. Last year, the tyre company’s annual calendar, which has become a fashion photography touchstone, theretofore known as a bastion of soft-porn, shifted its focus from the perfect body to perfect accomplishments. The 2016 edition featured Serena Williams (a great mix of perfect accomplishment and perfect body), Ava DuVernay, Patti Smith, Fran Leibovitz amongst others. “How would they top this?” I wondered, then – surely the only way would be to feature Ruth Bader Ginsburg as Miss July? Peter Lindbergh, this year’s photographer, may not have taken all my advice to heart, but has stuck with the general theme of not objectifying women set last year. He features a roster of actresses including Julianne Moore, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright.All are fully clothed, shot in tasteful black and white; according to Lindbergh not a single wrinkle or blemish has been magicked away with a blender brush-happy touch-up artist.
Lindbergh claims that he has replaced nudity with emotional nakedness, saying, “it’s another kind of naked, more important than body parts. What is more than being naked is to show yourself the way you are.” The sentiment is laudable, and certainly the fashion world could do with less Photoshop, but the softly lit images of extremely beautiful actresses (and Anastasia Ignatova, a lecturer at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations) aren’t nearly as revolutionary as Pirelli imagines them to be; Lindbergh may think his photographs are “a cry for beauty today against the terror of perfection and youth”, and to be fair to him, a wide diversity of age ranges are represented, but there are not what many consider ‘imperfections’ to be found here. All the women featured are classically beautiful, slim, cis, able-bodied, and the overwhelming majority are white. Zhang Zhi, and Lupita N’yongo, who to the cynical seems sometimes to be the only black woman the fashion world will acknowledge (okay, Naomi Campbell too) are the only ones to represent women of colour. Lindbergh’s pictures are blandly pretty, they are also smugly self-satisfied. The calendar seems to say “I dared to print a picture of 71-year-old Helen Mirren – where’s my prize?” The fashion industry shouldn’t be getting pats on the back for being shining beacons of progressivism for such lukewarm actions. Pirelli has done well to not revert back to their hyper-sexualised, objectifying images of yesteryear, but if we were waiting for Pirelli’s feminist revolution, this isn’t it.