​the powerful women of the pirelli calendar in their own words

Annie Leibovitz, Tavi Gevinson, Yao Chen and Agnes Gund on the power of focussing on women’s achievements at the London launch of the 2016 Pirelli calendar this morning.

by Charlotte Gush
30 November 2015, 7:27pm

The 2016 Pirelli calendar launched at a huge press conference in London this morning, and in attendance was photographer Annie Leibovitz and three of her subjects: Tavi Gevinson, the one-woman teen media empire and Rookie editor-in-chief; Yao Chen, the famous Chinese actor and UN Refugee Goodwill Ambassador; and Agnes Gund, president emerita of MOMA in New York, who appears in the calendar with her granddaughter Sadie.

i-D were there to get a first look of the calendar, watch the accompanying film and all the inside gossip from behind the scenes. Here are the 10 top tidbits...

Annie Leibovitz didn't let anyone from Pirelli attend the shoot
"Literally, bless Pirelli's heart, I didn't let anyone in the studio from Pirelli," Annie Leibovitz revealed. "It really became a very strong set of very simple portraits. I still can't believe that the women who agreed to be in it did [agree], and I felt a very big responsibility to that".

Agnes Gund's granddaughter Sadie freaked out when she met Serena Williams
"She was so excited when she heard it was Annie, and then we got down there and we were getting our hair done, and in walks Serena Williams," Gund says, "Well, I thought Sadie was gonna drop dead, she said, 'This is one of the greatest days of my life!'".

Tavi had her new cropped hairstyle cut at the shoot
"I actually cut my hair this length on the shoot," Tavi reveals, "I went in with the longer hair that you saw, and I had been wanting to cut it, and the hair stylist relayed this to Annie, that actually I wanted to buzz my head -- I'm glad that we didn't go that short! -- and then [Annie] came and said, 'What's going on,' and I said, "I'm actually going through a change,' and she said, 'Oh, OK,' so we did photos before and after, and for me, in that moment in my life it gave me a lot of confidence to have this moment documented that way".

Yao Chen says all the women look sexy, but that's not the main point
"I am also very honoured to be part of this collection chosen by Annie, it is about the time we live in," Yao Chen said, speaking in Mandarin through a translator. "I watched the video with great attention, every woman there looks sexy, but at the same time, there's more to that, you are able to see their mindset and their intellectual level as well, so I feel very honoured to be part of it".

Amy Schumer's coffee cup wasn't a prop
"The thing that is important about Amy Schumer, the last photograph [in the calendar], is that it was a concept," Leibovitz says, explaining, "It's as if she didn't get the memo [about not having to be naked]... and that was a true moment -- she actually picked up the cup of coffee and started drinking [in the middle of the shoot], that was her coffee, and I said that's it!".

Annie revealed why she's proud of Anna Wintour
"I shot Serena for the cover of Vogue, and I remember that sitting, I really wanted to do body studies of Serena then, and Anna Wintour said, 'Try a cover'," Annie reveals, "It was a big deal to put Serena on the cover of Vogue, and I gave up my body-study moment and worked hard to create a photograph of Serena that brought it home and put her on the cover… it was uplifting and I was really proud of Anna Wintour for putting her on the cover".

Tavi wants her inclusion to send a positive message to teens
"I was really excited when I was asked to be involved and I think one thing that's so exciting about it now is that, even though only a few thousand people get the calendar, with the internet more people will be able to see the images and I hope that it's an encouraging message to other young people that I have been welcomed into a group of people I admire," Gevinson said, adding, "I want young people, the people who read my work, to know that they should try making stuff and putting themselves out there, even if they feel intimidated by everything that influenced them and everyone who came before them… My work with Rookie creating a community where different kinds of young people feel accepted and encouraged to create, so hopefully my inclusion in this speaks to that".

Yao Chen's husband persuaded her to do the shoot
"When I received the invitation back in June, my first reaction was why me? Because I didn't have such a sexy body," Chen revealed. "My husband said, 'I don't mind if you take the photo naked, it's Annie, do it!'". So I was so excited. Eventually we realised that this calendar is going to show a different group of women, with strengths and power, which is even greater. I felt so proud to be one of them".

Susan Sontag first suggested a series on women to Annie in 1989
"I did a project in 1989, a book on women. It was Susan Sontag's idea, and I said, 'That's too big of a subject, forget about it, that's like shooting the ocean'," Annie explains, "But anyway, I started the project; I did a series of showgirls for the New Yorker, and I realised how important it was, the power of a series… because it showed diversity".

Annie says the calendar represents a big step forward
"I am proud of it, I think we did accomplish something together, and I'm proud of Pirelli for taking that step. It shouldn't be such a big step, but it is a big step. It's wonderful to be able to really be given the reigns and [for them to say], 'Go do this!,' so I am more proud than ever when I see the film. I think Pirelli has been wanting to do this for a few years, to shift; they came to me with a mandate saying they would like to see some change. I don't like to think of it as a watershed, but a shift, being right-on and right on time".

tavi gevinson
Annie Leibovitz
yao chen
pirelli calendar
agnes gund