The 2018 Pirelli Calendar, which landed today and is the 45th to date, signals a thrilling new era for the annual photography series. Styled by British Vogue editor Edward Enninful and shot by photographer Tim Walker, the calendar reimagines Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with a cast of industry giants and exciting new faces bringing the fairytale to life.
The through-the-looking-glass characters include Naomi Campbell as The Royal Beheader (of course), drag mother RuPaul in a spectacular red ballgown as The Queen of Hearts, and Whoopi Goldberg in a fur-lined hat as The Royal Duchess. Alongside these respected innovators, the impressive lineup features newer faces such as American model Slick Woods (The Mad Hatter), American Honey actress Sasha Lane (The Mad March Hare) and Gurls Talk founder Adwoa Aboah (Tweedledee). Taking centre stage as Alice is South Sudanese-Australian model Duckie Thot, shot in baby-blue sheer knee-high socks and a matching silk dress.
Tim Walker’s hazy and nostalgic aesthetic is perfectly suited for an homage to John Tenniel’s whimsical illustrations of Alice’s story. The surrealist quality of the photographs is rooted in the fantastical and often frightening narrative of Carroll’s books. Designed by the prolific Shona Heath, who often distorts scale and colour to bring her concepts to life, the set, too, is what makes these images so representative of the dark fairytale. Wilting rose bushes, cupcakes with protruding limbs, giant faded playing cards, and an extravagant hookah (don’t forget the hot-headed smoking Caterpillar from the books), make up the otherworldly backdrop.
A trade tradition since 1963, the Pirelli Calendar has typically been a celebration of classically beautiful white women shot in soft focus. While the 2016 edition, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, certainly made moves towards shattering beauty standards, with Patti Smith, Serena Williams, Yoko Ono and Ava DuVernay modelling, the all-black cast of 2018 (not the first – 1987's calendar featured Naomi Campbell alongside other black models) is pushing representation further forward than ever before. While Enninful has been an advocate of representation throughout his career, the casting was Walker’s concept. South African law graduate and model Thando Hopa, who plays The Princess of Hearts in a sumptuous cream dress, revealed her conversation with Walker about his vision to The Guardian: “I actually phoned him up and I was like: ‘Let’s sit down and talk.’ He said, ‘any person should be able to see themselves in any way. So any girl, whether she is black or Chinese or Indian, they should be able to have their own fairytale’.” Indeed, Enninful echoed Walker’s dream of a contemporary and diverse Alice: “Given the state of the world we live in, sometimes I think we all feel like we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. For me, a retelling of ‘Alice’ for the modern world was a perfect project, particularly once the cast fell into place.”
As Hopa says, “This is an important step in culture development – to push images that aren’t generic, that don’t conform to stereotypes”. As a regular Vogue contributor, we look forward to seeing the future collaborations between Tim Walker and Enninful, as the latter embarks on his new role as editor-in-chief. A new era for the magazine is upon us – let’s hope this pivotal Pirelli shoot is a sign of greater things to come.