RIO DE JANEIRO – After taking it all off for 39 straight years, the notoriously racy Pirelli calendar has buttoned up, delivering a 2013 edition Tuesday — in flamboyant Rio de Janeiro of all places — with nary a nude in sight.
Still, with a cast including Brazilian top models Isabeli Fontana and Adriana Lima posing in lush locations around Rio, the calendar is still steamy despite all those clothes. Clad in short shorts or slip-dresses, the models gaze out from between verdant palm fronds at the Botanical Garden, strike catlike poses in hillside slums, or shoot come-hither gazes from the somber depths of decadent samba nightclubs.
This demure, covered-up twist on the iconically saucy calendar was the brainchild of American photojournalist and war photographer Steve McCurry, who said he accepted Pirelli's offer to take on the coveted assignment on the condition he could do it his way.
"I was surprised because I don't shoot much fashion," McCurry told journalists at a news conference at Rio's stately old Copacabana Palace hotel. "But I do know about beautiful women.
"I thought 'why don't we find models who aren't only gorgeous and beautiful but are also doing good things,'" said McCurry, who is best known for his photo of an Afghan refugee with piercing green eyes that appeared on the cover of National Geographic Magazine in 1984.
The team selected socially committed beauties including Petra Nemcova, the Czech model who founded the Happy Hearts Fund in the wake of the 2004 tsunami to help children hit by natural disasters, American environmental crusader Summer Rayne Oakes and Brazilian actress and child rights advocate Sonia Braga. McCurry suggested that shooting the 11 women fully clothed allows the viewer to see them as fully formed people, with ideas and initiatives and projects, as opposed to straight-out sex objects.
Kyleigh Kuhn, an American model who has long supported efforts to build playgrounds and schools in Afghanistan, praised the new, socially conscious Pirelli calendar.
"This is where the rubber meets the road for peace," she said, referring to the end goal of her work in Afghanistan. "It's going to have a trickle-down effect for all our charities."
Still, it remains to be seen whether the calendar will remain as socially aware — not to mention as fully dressed — next year. Executives at the Italian tire maker said it would depend on the direction the photographer who's selected next year wants to take the project.
Launched in 1964, the calendar was born as a racy way to promote the brand's tires. With its naked pinups shot in exotic locations from Mallorca to Tunisia to the Bahamas, the calendar quickly took on bigger proportions, becoming a fashion icon that attracted top-tier photographers including Herb Ritts, Richard Avadon, Annie Liebovitz, Mario Testino, Terry Richardson and Karl Lagerfeld.
The 2013 edition marked the third time it's been shot in Brazil, following the 2005 and 2010 editions.