Every year the Pirelli calendar causes a frenzy with its trademarked blend of timeless imagery and undeniable sex appeal. Giving some of the world’s premier photographers a chance to unleash their creativity and create one of a kind images of top models, the calendar has become an iconic showcase for beauty. Only a select few ever get their hands on an actual copy of the fabled but everyone marvels at the spectacular imagery. How does the world’s finest calendar come together? Pirelli casting director Jennifer Starr takes us behind the scenes of the process and this year’s star-studded Steve McCurry helmed extravaganza.
MDC: How was this year’s theme decided?
JENNIFER STARR: It just kind of evolved organically. Pirelli had awarded the job to Steve McCurry. That was an exciting and different choice. They also wanted to pay homage to Brazil for its SOUL, energy and socio-economic transformation. Steve’s work just dictated who we needed to costar alongside Brazil: women who we should honor for their energy and dedication to making a difference.
For me it was really an amazing assignment. I started researching inspirational women. I remember when Petra Nemcova left my office after an hour conversation about life and all she was doing with the Happy Hearts fund- I was so moved. What a special spirit! She could have given up on life after what she experienced during the tsunami but instead she used it all to change so many lives for the better. This calendar really struck a personal chord for me. It’s so easy to forget that we as individuals CAN make a difference. We get caught up in our own lives. These women reminded me, and I hope that they remind you, that, we are all connected and we all have power. Maybe there were people who were disappointed to open a calendar and find no bare skin. I am hoping that there were more who were loving Pirelli’s message that giving a damn is the new sexy!
MDC: When putting together the cast this year what were you looking for specifically?
JENNIFER STARR: Generosity! Women who CARE. Women who are beautiful and who are optimistic that they can indeed make a change. Women who have spent a good deal of their time trying to effect that change. Casting for Steve I researched many models and humanitarians. The good news is there were MANY people who belonged in this calendar, I wish they were all available and I wish there were 24 months in the year! Christy Turlington, Natalia Vodianova (having come from an impoverished background in Russia to becoming one of the top earning models and building over 90 playgrounds back at home), Somaly Mam, Lauren Bush, the list went on and on.
I think the world is a different place today. After Pirelli I did a casting for inspiring 18 year olds across the country. I was sent everyone’s video application to college. Kids today have done so much for others by the time they are 18! It’s part of who they are as people. That makes me feel better about the future of this planet, how we take care of it and all those who walk on it.
MDC: What was working with Steve like on this?
JENNIFER STARR: It was very different than in the past. He’s a photojournalist well known for his powerful images of refugees in war torn Afghanistan, portraits where the eyes tell a very heartfelt story. He didn’t come to the project saying- here’s a list of women I want to photograph. He hasn’t photographed many models. I think there had to be a certain level of trust that I would find him very purposeful people that he found beautiful and inspiring. So much had to be communicated in the eyes. Once on the shoot, I think the models discovered that Steve is not really one to direct but rather waits until the moment unfolds within the created situation. This had to be frustrating for the girls. But the result- that unguarded moment- is so beautiful. Steve is incredibly meticulous! It’s almost like he creates a still life image and the model is one element in that still life. It was really interesting to watch him work and I was on set holding lights every moment I could just to observe the process. We are trying to find a time to take a trip together. How amazing would it be to travel anywhere with him and find incredible faces? He only seeks to take meaningful pictures that will stand the test of time. When I started off, at 18, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Sebastião Salgado or Steve McCurry! But life took me in a bit of a different direction when I met Bruce Weber and I discovered the incredible world of fantasy.
MDC: What are some of your favorite Pirelli images over the years?
JENNIFER STARR: I am so a late 60’s early 70’s girl! The beautiful natural light outside in Big Sur by Harry Peccinotti and in the Bahamas with Francis Giacobetti! Images of a woman’s mouth about to sip from a bottle, a close up of her eye, simple natural beach shots in bathing suits. Then jump to 1997 with a naked Penelope Cruz in bed wrapped in a white sheet eating an apple by Inez and Vinoodh. Guinevere Van Seenus with a dolphin, Natalia Vodianova naked with a kitty, and Karen Elson nude in black and white on a boat with big white balloons photographed by Mert and Marcus.
MDC: What do you think exemplifies the spirit of Pirelli?
JENNIFER STARR: Answering the question- year after year- WHAT IS BEAUTIFUL?? WHAT IS SEXY? It’s interesting to look at the calendars since 1964 and see how each artist interpreted that question! Interesting to see what that means over many decades!
MDC: Is there a photographer or model who hasn’t done Pirelli yet that you’d like to see in the calendar?
JENNIFER STARR: STEVEN MEISEL! Come on Steven! And it would be nice for another woman to shoot it! I had dreams of Irving Penn, Lilian Bassman, and Sam Haskins shooting it but sadly that never happened. I am sure Pirelli will chose someone fantastic for the next one. They always do!