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The Italian tyre company Pirelli kicked off the A-list’s Christmas party season this year with a 50th anniversary celebration of its best-known product – the Pirelli calendar.
In a vast contemporary art space on the outskirts of Milan, more than 500 guests, including Sophia Loren, Kevin Spacey, Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli, plus prominent industrialists, European bankers and many, many models, sat down for a black-tie gala dinner – with a side helping of nudity.
“The thing about the Pirelli calendar is that you could just go wild,” said model Karolina Kurkova. Her outfit, men’s black tie on top and tiny leather shorts by Dsquared2 on the bottom, amid a sea of long dresses and buttoned-up tuxedos, struck exactly the right tone for a glamorous night with a risqué undercurrent.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a party for this very Italian brand, most guests were dressed in homegrown Italian labels: Giorgio Armani, Fendi, Alberta Ferretti, Ermenegildo Zegna, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana all featured. Afef Jnifen, model and wife of Pirelli chairman and chief executive Marco Tronchetti Provera, wore a form-hugging, floor-skimming azure-blue velvet gown by Alberta Ferretti. Elisa Sednaoui, the Karl Lagerfeld muse-turned-actress, was in red velvet by Fendi, again fitting from breastbone to ankles.
But, interestingly, given that this was a Pirelli calendar party, most revellers had chosen not to reveal too much flesh. Perhaps this was not to distract fellow partygoers from posters above their heads – many of which showed portraits of the very same women wearing little more than either loincloths (in the 1994 calendar “In Praise of Women”, which featured Kate Moss) or leaves (in photographer Richard Avedon’s 1995 calendar “Seasons”). It was a contrast that played well at Pirelli, a brand that has, after all, excelled at using pin-ups to sell tyres for half a century.
For the men, as ever the choice was easier, with tuxes the theme of the night; albeit with a few notable exceptions. Lapo Elkann, billionaire Fiat heir and society-circuit flâneur, wore a checkerboard suit by Lapo’s Wardrobe for Gucci, plus “a vintage Mickey Mouse Rolex”, which he was keen to point out. Elkann also slipped off his patent black dress-shoes, complete with bow, to show that they were tailor-made on Savile Row. Among the photographers the swinging 1960s appeared still in vogue: with many sporting baggy linen suits, sneakers and Sebagos. Although this was a rainy night in Milan, their look was reminiscent of the calendar’s first photo shoot, by Robert Freeman on a Caribbean island in 1964.
The star of the night was Sophia Loren, who was regal in body-skimming silver Giorgio Armani. What was it like, I asked, to pose for Pirelli in the 2007 calendar? “For me, it was surprising doing that for the first time at a later age,” the 79-year-old replied. “For Pirelli, it was a scoop to have me.”
Still, the last word went to Kevin Spacey, who compèred the evening in a midnight-blue tuxedo by Burberry, and was the only one to address the elephant in the room. “I think I know the secret of your success,” he commented, when partygoers had just watched a 20-minute film of 50 years’ worth of Pirelli calendar images during the interval between their risotto entrée and veal main course. “Did you count the breasts? That was a lot of breasts.”