nicole kidman, uma thurman, and helen mirren on why they went unretouched for the pirelli calendar

Earlier this week in Paris, Peter Lindbergh revealed his third Pirelli Calendar: a collection of unretouched photographs of the world’s most lauded actresses. Here, three of its brightest stars discuss the challenges of being a woman.

by Emily Manning
01 December 2016, 7:00pm

Last October, Kate Winslet revealed that the beauty contract she'd recently inked with L'Oréal stipulated that, as the new face of Lancôme, all of her advertisements must remain unretouched. "It does feel important to me, because I do think we have a responsibility to the younger generation of women," Winslet said, hoping that "other people might follow suit." She likely did not anticipate that these "other people" would include Pirelli — the Italian tire manufacturer which for the past 50 years has commissioned the world's leading photographers to create artistic calendars featuring the most beautiful women on the planet.

Just months after Winslet's statement, Pirelli revealed its 2016 Calendar: black and white photographs by Annie Leibovitz featuring activists, athletes, and artists. 69-year-old Patti Smith and her boyish Ann Demeulemeester vests took the place of 23-year-old Anna Ewers and her skin-tight leotard, captured by Steven Meisel for the 2015 Pirelli Cal. Leibovitz's images shattered the glamazonian mold half a century of Pirelli's highly anticipated calendars established. This year, Pirelli doubled down on this radical revision of beauty by rejecting retouching entirely, and Winslet herself played a part. The Oscar-winning actress joined 14 of her internationally celebrated peers — among them Lupita Nyong'o, Rooney Mara, Penelope Cruz, Chinese megastar Zhang Ziyi, and Charlotte Rampling — and Moscow State University professor Anastasia Ignatova in front of Peter Lindbergh's lens. There was no digital manipulation or over-the-top sets. As the title of Lindbergh's Calendar, "Emotional," suggests, this year's Pirelli Cal was about locating beauty in the richness of human experience.

We're used to seeing these women in films — as Lindbergh explained at the Hôtel Ritz in Paris on Monday — "that stand for something, stand up for something. They don't go to the big money productions or try to do blockbuster movies. They do what they love." (The sentiment rang particularly true when he flipped through breathtaking images of Julianne Moore, who finally nabbed an Oscar for her performance as an Alzheimer's patient in 2014's Still Alice). Yet while these women have achieved acclaim by portraying emotionally complex characters we rarely see the actresses in a similar light off the screen. We're bombarded with picture-perfect red carpet snaps or spectacular campaigns (think Nyong'o's Lancôme ambassadorship, or fellow Calendar star Léa Seydoux's Louis Vuitton ads). For his third Pirelli commission in 20 years, the iconic German photographer sought to challenge this paradox, and present these stars as authentically themselves. "What's another kind of naked — much more important than naked body parts?" Lindbergh asked. "I think it's when you really show yourself the way you are." 

"[These photographs] don't fit in the current climate at all, I think. But that's important," Lindbergh said about challenging what he repeatedly referred to as today's "terror of beauty and youth." The purpose of this Pirelli Calendar, he explained, "is to say: I don't accept the image of beauty which has been created by commercial interests. I want to remind people what beauty really is." "Peter's mission with everyone involved was wanting free women from repressive and false standards," said one of the Calendar's brightest stars, Uma Thurman, during a press conference in Paris. "And Pirelli — which has a history of different types of images of women — making this movement towards natural, empowered, free women is fantastic."

71-year-old firecracker Helen Mirren positioned this movement within a wider cultural context. "Having lived on this planet for quite a long time and watched so many changes, [there] is undoubtedly a cultural shift. But I don't think it's the end of that journey, either. I think that it's a real sort of opening up," she explained. "The reality of this calendar is a very clear manifestation of that change…Our eyes need to become re-educated because we're so used to these spectacular, digitally enhanced pictures. Here, we're saying, 'Let's get back to the simple truth of humanity.'" Nicole Kidman agreed. "As [Helen] said, our eyes get attuned as our ears do to music. We're used to autotune now, so if someone doesn't have perfect pitch immediately, it's like, 'Oh, you're flat.' The beauty of live singing or seeing someone is that, they're alive and it's not 'perfect.'"

As the floor opened up to questions from journalists around the world, the conversation turned to the myriad challenges women face in a world that unrelentingly demands perfection. Speaking about what female empowerment looks like today, none of the Calendar stars directly named Hillary Clinton, the most qualified presidential candidate in United States history whose brief bout of pneumonia became a heated political issue. Thurman, however, alluded to the recent election when she spoke about female power as "endurance — it's all of us getting back up and trying to find some solidarity," and overcoming what divides us. "We're in a big ocean and there are different currents," she explained. "There's an unbelievably regressive current towards women and minorities going in a negative direction. And there's a positive — let's call it a 'jetstream' that we need to fuel in a loving direction towards all people. This is a loving gesture from Peter Lindbergh. It's coming from the heart of loving women as real people."


Text Emily Manning
Photography Peter Lindbergh / Courtesy of Pirelli

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