Pirelli’s all-black calendar:’ Any daughters should be able to have their own fairytale’

Diversity takes centre stage as Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyongo, Whoopi Goldberg and Sean Diddy Combs feature in Tim Walker and Edward Enninfuls twisted version of Alice in Wonderland

I chop off people heads and I like it. Naomi Campbell appears up from her telephone to tell a group of journalists about her role in the most recent Pirelli calendar. It is inspired by John Tenniels original illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, and Campbell is on set in a photographic studio in north London, surrounded by a twisted fairytale scene of mouldy jam tarts and scorched doll houses.

She plays the Royal Beheader of course she does and is joined by Lupita Nyongo as a dormouse, Sean Diddy Combs as Campbells fellow beheader, South Sudanese-Australian model Duckie Thot as Alice, Whoopi Goldberg as the Royal Duchess and Sasha Lane as the March Hare. Fashions woke poster-woman and feminist activist Adwoa Aboah has been shot as Tweedledee. And RuPaul will also appear, as the Queen of Hearts.

RuPaul, Duckie Thot and Edward Enninful backstage at the shoot. Photo: Alessandro Scotti/ Pirelli PR handout

This is a staggeringly talented and eclectic cast. It is also all black, with the calendar styled by Edward Enninful, the newly appointed editor of British Vogue, the first person of colouring to have held the post. That said, the concept is the work of a white photographer, Tim Walker, who explains his motivation by saying its never been did before. Alice has never been told like this.

This is not the first time Pirelli has featured an all-black lineup in 1987, a 16 -year-old Campbell posed topless for an edition that featured only black models. This time, however, the tone is wildly different. And it feels precision-engineered to strike a chord in an epoch in which way ultimately seems to be addressing its diversity problem, with Enninfuls appointment, the autumn/ wintertime 2017 runway collectings in just about every city featuring their most racially diverse cast ever, as well as Guccis recent campaign that featured merely black models all being presented as green shoots of change.

Adwoa Aboah. Photograph: Alessandro Scotti/ Pirelli PR handout

But reflecting, even leading, cultural conversations is what the Pirelli calendar does these days, which may seem bizarre given that it is essentially a promotional exert for tyres.

This was not always the way. For much of its history the calendar, launched in 1964, was most famous as a place where supermodels took off their kit sometimes artily for photographers ranging from Terry Richardson to Herb Ritts.

Alpha Dia and King Owusu. Photo: Alessandro Scotti/ Pirelli PR handout

But in 2016 Pirelli commissioned Annie Leibovitz to shoot females known for their professional, social, cultural, sporting and artistic accomplishment, including Yoko Ono, Patti Smith, Serena Williams and Amy Schumer, without the male gaze in mind. Earlier this year, Peter Lindberghs instalment continued in the same vein, presenting portraits of women with their clothes largely on: Uma Thurman was snapped in a rib-knit roll-neck. Both calendars inspired thinkpieces aplenty.

Thando Hopa and Whoopi Goldberg. Photo: Alessandro Scotti/ Pirelli PR handout

The cynical might question Pirellis motivatings for using an all-black cast, and whether its nod to manners vogue for diversity is a little too on the nose. With that box ticked, will Pirelli forget about diversity for its 2019 edition? Will the rest of the fashion industry, for that matter?

None of these concerns are at the fore on decide, however, where models wearing vinyl skirts and platform shoes mill around to a soundtrack of Aretha Franklins Respect and Otis Reddings( Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher& Higher. The dark detritus of fairytale is strewn about cakes with plastic hands erupting out of them, burnt toast and a looming, giant stuffed hare that refuses to stay upright.

South African Thando Hopa plays the Princess of Hearts. She is a law graduate who worked as a prosecutor specialising in sex offence examples, and only got into modelling because she wanted to have a greater level of representation for someone who appears so different( she has albinism ). Expended in the power of images you find someone portrayed in a particular way and it gives you inspiration and motive

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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