A New Naked Beauty

by Ruth La Ferla, November 2016 (United States)

PIRELLI’S REALITY CHECK: PORTRAYING BEAUTY AT ANY AGE Dame Helen Mirren peers imperiously from inside a high collar that lends her an aura of majesty. Nicole Kidman confronts the camera, her features slightly furrowed, her muscular arms hugging the back of a chair. Charlotte Rampling does each of those A-list stars one better, her pale skin and famously hooded eyes devoid of discernible makeup. >For 2017, the calendar stepped up the game by concentrating more pointedly on age, and in the process flouting fashion’s last taboo. Ms. Mirren (71), Ms. Kidman (49) and Ms. Rampling (70) are but three in a red-carpet-worthy lineup showcased in the 2017 Pirelli calendar. Also posing gamely, without apparent artifice, for the German photographer Peter Lindbergh are Kate Winslet, Uma Thurman, Robin Wright and Julianne Moore, among others, each over 40, some much older, and each apparently willing to bare not just parts of her flesh, but shades of her innermost self, too. The calendar, a collector’s item that is produced annually ~~and delivered~~ free to a select group of high-powered clients and members of the fashion elite, is the second in the company’s history to subvert its decades-long tradition of displaying scantily clad models in campily suggestive poses. Twelve months ago, Pirelli defied expectations with a strenuously arty calendar shot by Annie Leibovitz, its subjects — the blogger and actress Tavi Gevinson, the artist Shirin Neshat, and the model Natalia Vodianova among them — appearing for the most part fully clothed, intent on flaunting character not curves. For 2017, the calendar stepped up the game by concentrating more pointedly on age, and in the process flouting fashion’s last taboo. Evidently the bias against age, long endemic to Hollywood and the fashion runways, no longer applies to style marketing campaigns. Turned loose on the project, Mr. Lindbergh, renowned for his alternately cinematic and naturalistic portraits of models and screen sirens, aimed to demonstrate that there is beauty in age and, more than that, audacity. “We see all these people today who all want to be perfect and young,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Paris. “My thought was, ‘Why don’t we do a calendar with women ready to go without much makeup, to be as they are?’ For me, beauty is someone who can say yes to herself.” >“Sexy has nothing to do with skin. Nothing is more erotic than talk.” - Peter Lindbergh Mr. Lindbergh, 72, seemed an apt choice for the assignment. The task of shooting his ~~fiercely accomplished~~ subjects with every pore, crease and sag dramatically magnified was, he would have you believe, no more than business as usual. “With some of these women, we have worked for over 30 years together,” he said. “With, I would say, every one of them there is a long-built trust. “I wasn’t even thinking about their age,” he said. “I was thinking that they all have something about them that is vulnerable and truthful at the same time.” Mr. Lindbergh approached the job as a spontaneous, largely improvised adventure. “I didn’t force anything,” he said. “There was no urging them to smile, no promising, ‘You’re going to look great.’ For us, the coolest thing was that they could be themselves.” He warms to his subjects in conversation. “Sexy has nothing to do with skin,” he said, a touch of mischief in his voice. “Nothing is more erotic than talk.” One may detect a hint of vaulting ambition, not that of Mr. Lindbergh’s but of Pirelli’s: an aim to create, if not precisely an art object, at least, a document of its time. “We are a global company, and we are affected by global trends,” said Marco Tronchetti Provera, the company’s chairman and chief executive. Portraying women older than 40 in a way that stresses their accomplishments over their fleshier aspects is part of a corporate decision “to keep a closer eye on the society, to perceive current trends and express them,” he said. For sure, the calendar aims to court an older female clientele. Those women may or may not be the ones to reach into their wallets, but they are crucial nonetheless. When it comes to spending, Mr. Tronchetti Provera said, “women are the decision makers much more than men.” As a marketing gambit, the calendar breaks no molds. At fairly routine intervals, fashion lifts fat people, prepubescent children, sexual outliers and now, with increasing frequency, old people to an exalted chic. >“In an aging society, we cannot get rid of age, we have to live with it, in a positive way.” - Marco Tronchetti Povera Last year the luxury giant Céline raised eyebrows by introducing the octogenarian Joan Didion as the face of the brand; in ~~its fall advertising, Dolce & Gabbana~~ prominently featured a pair of wizened nonnas. All that is to say nothing of the ubiquitous Carmen Dell’Orefice and Iris Apfel, each riveting in a multitude of campaigns. For some observers, such efforts seem a bit past their prime. “There is something about the wider trend of casting older women aimed at making middle-aged and young women feel good that feels rather cynical,” Sandra Howard wrote last year in a column for The Daily Mail. “This is not about gray power, but the power to shock.” But to Mr. Tronchetti Provera, the choice to show older models and actresses seemed, if not quite inevitable, at least in tune with shifting times. “In an aging society, we cannot get rid of age,” he said. “We have to live with it, in a positive way.”