Does the World Still Need Pinup Girls?

Does the World Still Need Pinup Girls?

lamour is a weapon and Precious Lee knows it. She’s sitting under a giant bronze crossbow wearing a Thom Browne, blazer with a custom satin bodice< which adds to the whoa of it all.

We’re in a 16th-century game, lodge—the kind of place where you could play a convincing< game of Bodies, Bodies, Bodies in the dark—talking about her latest gig as a Pirelli calendar model. “This is extreme,” she laughs. “This is someone’s extra castle—not even their main castle! Like a spare castle, just for hunting! And we’re surrounded by these beautiful, dangerous things. But that’s fashion. We love a theme.”

It is a risky time to be a pinup girl, even one armed< with the charisma and beauty of Ms. Lee. OnlyFans and thirst traps have cornered a large part of the Hot Girl Economy. A corset resurgence is pushing lingerie further into the dual language of constraint and consent. And when fashion says, “Let’s be bombshells,” the decision requires a thumping <chant of “Being hot is feminist!” so insistent, it can border on virtual signaling. Indeed, Pirelli’s own press junket channels Notting Hill, except reporters keep asking famous models about< “female empowerment” instead of Julia Roberts adventuring through space.

It’s a fair question for the Pirelli calendar-curious. Born the same year as the miniskirt (1964, h/t Mary Quant!), “The Cal” marries highbrow art with freed nipples. Predictably, it’s been a mixed bag, with many naked and famous blondes (Gisele! Heidi! Kate! Repeat!) lensed by a few men who are now, mercifully, known as creeps. But the calendar’s also been quite progressive re: the female gaze.

Its sixth-ever photographer was none< other than artist Sarah Moon; Joyce Tennyson took a turn in the ’80s; Annie Leibowitz has shot it twice, and, this year, Emma Summerton takes the reins. So it’s not like Pirelli doesn’t want women to frame their fantasies. It just wants to make sure they still look, you know, like fantasies.

Precious Lee in the 2023 Pirelli calendar.

“As a model, I get it. Creating an image is my job—and I love my job,” says Lee< a Georgia native who stars in the calendar’s October section. (For the record, she is actually a “hardcore Virgo.”) In her aforementioned glamorous ‘fit, Lee nails her camera-ready duties so well that when she <steps out of her town car, she literally stops traffic. At the same time, the 32-year-old wants her impression on the world to be a 3D< rendering instead of just a snapshot. “I have other fantasies, too. As a non-traditionally sized model, it’s very important for me to think about the character that I’m writing about—bringing something new to someone that we can see for the first time. Like, imagine having a curve girl be the lead in an action film, or a physical or psychological thriller…I’d like us to get to the point where we’re not just imagining it,” she smiles, “And I’m writing some things. I’m working on some developing projects.” Lee indicates she can’t say much about them yet, but if she has her way, they’ll likely speak for themselves.

Emily Ratajkowski in the 2023 Pirelli calendar.

For Karlie Kloss—Pirelli’s August persona—speaking for herself has been a gradual process. “The Midwest politeness gene is so strong in me,” she says, “Whether I like it or not, it’s always there…

but there’s a fine line between. being polite and being a people-pleaser, and I think being a model has forced me, to really draw that line for myself” Kloss “vividly” remembers the first time she walked off a shoot. “I was 19, and this male photographer told me to take off all my clothes. It was for an ‘editorial,’ which meant, to him, that I was there to do whatever he wanted—to take nude, really sexualized photographs. It wasn’t even a question, it was just, ‘This is what you’ll do!’ At first, I was shocked, then horrified, then embarrassed, and then finally afraid to confront him or say ‘no’ to his face…it was the first time I realized that being ‘easy to work with’ did not mean doing whatever people told you to. And even then,” she laughs, “I said ‘I’m sorry!’ when I ran out of there.”

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