MILAN – Top fashion models are used to having a camera lens trained on them. But Ashley Graham, Precious Lee, Guinevere Van Seenus and Lauren Wasser say they truly feel seen in the images of them appearing in the 2023 Pirelli calendar, which highlights their personal passions.
Australian fashion photographer Emma Summerton cast 14 of the world’s most high-profile models in the calendar unveiled Wednesday, titled “Love Letters to the Muse.” Summerton collaborated with each to create dream-like archetypes of women who have inspired her.
Karlie Kloss appears as the tech savant, Emily Ratajkowski as the writer, Cara Delevingne as the performer and Sasha Pivovarova as the painter, each a reference to passions beyond the runway and photo shoots.
“I wanted to give a platform to all the women to talk about who they are and what they do, and celebrate them,’’ Summerton said. “I think hearing all these great women talk about their journey, who they are, is hopefully really inspiring for other women -- and a learning thing for men to know more about women.”
The Pirelli calendar, now in its 49th edition since 1964, has evolved from its pinup origins into a major platform for art photographers, more recently moving away from nudity. For the models in the 2023 calendar, the experience was all about empowerment.
“It’s not your daddy’s kind of calendar anymore,’’ said Graham, who has campaigned for body inclusivity in the fashion industry. “It’s definitely something that is made by women for women, empowering all different types of people. And I think that that’s what people want to see now.”
“A lot of times when I come on set I’m a character, or I’m selling something,’’ Graham added. “And in this, I got to be myself. I’m the activist, I’m Ashley, I’m Emma’s muse. What an honor.”
Graham said having both her and fellow curvy model Lee in the calendar shows they are not “a token. We are women who represent women who look like us.”
Lee appears in the calendar as the story teller. She hopes to further represent Black women like herself through screenwriting, bringing to the fore stories that will let young girls see themselves reflected in a way she wasn't.
Her appearance on fashion billboards already has inspired young girls to reach out to her as a role model, and participating in the Pirelli calendar “is definitely monumental. I think it is unprecedented,“ Lee said.
“When I was 7, I didn’t look up on a billboard and see someone like me,’’ she said. Lee added that she hopes both her modeling and writing help create permanent change so “it won’t be such a rarity, and we won’t be talking about it being unprecedented.”
The image of Wasser shows her posing as Joan of Arc with a real sword and her prosthetic limbs. She lost her legs in her 20s to toxic shock syndrome caused by feminine hygiene products, and has launched a personal campaign to highlight a persistent threat to women’s health that she says is not discussed enough.
“I think that I embody resilience and strength and empowerment and everything I stand for, as far as what I’ve overcome and what I hope to never have happened to another soul again,” Wasser said.
This was Van Seenus’ third Pirelli calendar. She also appeared in the 2006 edition by the creative duo of Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, and the 2012 calendar by Mario Sorrenti.
Van Seenus said it was frowned on when she started out for models to pursue other careers or public passions.
“Now, you really get to be all of these things together and you’re appreciated for the different faces and not expected to be just one pretty thing,’’ she said. In Summerton’s photographs, “I feel seen. It’s very different.”