News from tyre manufacturers and distributors - Glossy, sensual, universal

Glossy, sensual, universal

Business Published the 19/01/2010 by Laurent

Riddle: what do we anticipate with impatience and curiosity at the same time every year? Not Beaujolais Nouveau, or the switchover from summer to winter tyres, but the mythical Pirelli calendar. An absolute institution, over forty five years old that engenders just as much passion today. Here’s how the adventure began.

It all started in 1964 when the marketing director of the brand’s British subsidiary decided to make a calendar for his customers. He hired Robert Freeman, the author of several Beatles album covers, who had no idea that what he believed to be just “a little marketing operation” would, over the years, become an unmissable worldwide event. Since then most renowned photographers, numerous movie stars and the most beautiful models have worked on this adventure.  But the Pirelli calendar is not just a beautifully produced, glossy document where the prettiest girls in the world pose. It is above all an excellent "photograph" of society, a barometer of changes in morals, an almost ethnological work.

“Peace and Love”

The 1960’s were fairly liberal times. This was the era of bikinis, miniskirts, the sexual revolution, pacifist slogans “Peace and love”, “Make love, not war”. It was also a period for the development of feminist movements and the liberalization of the contraceptive pill. Pirelli thus called on the hot photographer, Harry Peccinotti, former artistic manager for the Rolling Stones, who chose California, a symbolic region of the period, to take his photos, deemed quite racy at the time. The 1970’s left no trace in the annals as, a victim of the economic crisis, the most glamorous calendar in the world ceased publication in 1974 to reappear six years later and has continued without cease since.

Conversely, a conservative movement emerged in the United States in the 1990’s against the drift in sexual liberalism. It advocated a return to moral values, had a strong attachment to religious principles and an aversion for sexuality issues. Things had to be calmed down and returned to greater classicism acceptable by good society. Richard Avedon was entrusted with this serener vision by staging four women in the four seasons. Baptized “Pirelli seasons”, this calendar was a great success.

Collectors’ item

Whatever changes the calendar has gone through over the years, everyone agrees on the true artistic qualities of this much sought after object. Its universal nature, the choice of models and decors make it a unique object, sought after by connoisseurs and collectors alike.

Every year, it offers scenes carefully staged to incite travel to the four corners of the globe: in 2006, the hottest stars, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Moss or Karen Elson, showed off their sensuality on the beaches of the Côte d’Azur; in 2008 it was Shanghai that staged the most beautiful women on the planet. In 2009, the wild nature of the Kalahari desert in Botswana was the backdrop for the photographer Peter Beard, who displayed his models among insects, vultures and elephants. The 2010 edition is called "Samba", is even more sensual and shows beautiful creatures lost in the middle of the Brazilian jungle.

A VIP club

Not everyone however, is able to get their hands on a Pirelli calendar. Its publication is limited to 45 000 copies, and unlike other calendars, it is not for sale but offered to Pirelli’s most important customers or celebrities. Owning a Pirelli calendar is like belonging to a caste, an exclusive VIP club. It costs almost one and a half million Euros to produce, but the sales revenues from it are estimated at over 40 million Euros. And like any collector’s item, it is so sought after that a copy of the 2003 edition sold for 13 000 Euros on internet auctions.

This is not exactly the universe of the tyre, yet the Italian tyre brand cannot be mentioned without associating its famous calendar. At the time, the challenge was daring and hopes well short of the advertising coup that transpired. Although it is difficult to directly link the existence of this calendar to the number of tyres sold by the Milan manufacturer, what is certain is that once you have seen a Pirelli calendar, you will never look at a tyre in quite the same way again.