Fantasy and mystique

Meet the muses of Emma Summerton’s Pirelli Calendar
By Ella Joyce | Art | 29 November 2022

Ashely Graham for Pirelli Calendar 2023

Now in its 49th year, the Pirelli Calendar is a tick box on every model’s bucket list. This year sees renowned photographer Emma Summerton take the lead, capturing the beauty of womanhood within a fantastical world of mystique and surrealism. For Summerton it was always a career goal, she tells us, “I’d been asking people for years, ‘How do you do this? And why aren’t more women doing it?’” Now, she is the fifth female photographer to shoot the calendar, joining the likes of Sarah Moon and Joyce Tenneson.

Aptly titled, Love Letters to the Muse, Summerton’s theme revolves around the women who stand before her – the likes of Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, Karlie Kloss and Adwoa Aboah. Taking it back to the etymological root of the word whereby a ‘muse’ originally represented the source of something, these women are not merely a springboard for inspiration, but creators of their own destiny. Constructing a cast of inspiring characters who Summerton says she both sees within herself and wishes she could be, a dreamlike world filled with painters, writers and activists is realised. Having spent the afternoon with Summerton in September before the calendar’s launch, now we speak with four of her muses; Ashley Graham, Guinevere Van Seenus, Precious Lee, and Lauren Wasser.

Bella Hadid for Pirelli Calendar 2023

Summerton’s mood board began with ‘The Photographer’, of which Guinevere Van Seenus was “always the first choice.” Having risen to fame as what many defined as ‘an anti-supermodel’ in the 90s, making her debut on the cover of Vogue Italia shot by Steven Meisel. Now a photographer and artist in her own right, Van Seenus explains that it’s her third time appearing in the calendar but the first time she felt like herself: “Each photographer has a beautiful way of seeing women, but Emma built this beautiful fantasy world which also has tie-ins to what I am doing, each girl’s character was a touch on reality and a leap into a dream.” Noting the differences in generations, when Van Seenus was rising through the ranks models were seen and not heard. Now decades later, Summerton seeks to delve further – as Guinevere importantly points out, it’s “a woman’s perspective on women being sexy.”

“Pirelli is being a pioneer in what it means to be sexy”

Guinevere Van Seenus for Pirelli Calendar 2023

When it comes to sexiness, Ashley Graham speaks of the revolutionary eye cast over this year’s calendar, “Pirelli is being a pioneer in what it means to be sexy and have a platform, because as models we’re now able to stand up for something, Pirelli has lent us that voice.” Known for her pioneering work campaigning for inclusivity within the industry, her role as ‘The Activist’ within the calendar is far from a character. “I am the activist, that’s the beauty of it. I got to show up as myself, as somebody who has been fighting for diversity across the board,” says Graham. With an Instagram following of over nineteen million, unlike Guinevere, Ashley is a supermodel of the digital age and uses it to her advantage. Having dealt with tokenism in an industry filled with set sample sizes, Graham’s gratitude for her inclusion in the calendar is palpable; “There really is something to be said about Pirelli putting a girl like me and also Precious in this calendar because there is a meaning to it, we’re not just a token, we’re women who represent women who look like us.”

Precious Lee for Pirelli Calendar 2023

Precious Lee is ‘The Storyteller’, defining her character as someone who encompasses a myriad of narratives, “I thought it was so great Emma saw that in me,” says Lee, who has written for Time, has a degree in mass media arts and holds aspirations to move into fiction or script writing. “As a model having so much of my work and my job be about how I look and what I’m presenting physically, to be able to connect with people by sharing my story has influenced me to be more courageous. I’ve always been a writer since I was a kid, but I feel like now there is a way to integrate it with the work I’ve done as a model.”

Lauren Wasser for Pirelli Calendar 2023

“Each girl’s character was a touch on reality and a leap into a dream”

Flip to May, and Lauren Wasser is reincarnated as Joan of Arc – taking on ‘The Athlete’ was an easy task for a woman who grew up playing sports her entire life until tragically losing both her legs to Toxic Shock Syndrome in 2012. Having reshaped her path, Wasser’s recent credentials include being named Harper’s Bazaar’s Woman of the Year and closing Louis Vuitton’s Cruise show in San Diego this spring. She is now living proof of overcoming life-changing circumstances and passionately campaigns for the women who were not so lucky. “I’ve been really adamant about not being labelled and not set in a box because I’m no different from anyone else, I just have a gold set of legs. I can do anything and everything,” says Wasser. It’s the first time an amputee has appeared in the calendar, and the first time its been shot by an all-female production team, when asked what the energy was like on-set, Wasser replies, “powerful.” This year’s calendar marks a distinct shift in dialogue, immortalised in the words of Ashley Graham: “This is not just your daddy’s pin-up calendar anymore, honey!” 

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