The 2019 Pirelli calendar unveiled Wednesday features ballet dancer Misty Copeland as an aspiring dancer, actress Julia Garner as a botanical photographer, model Gigi Hadid as a disenchanted socialite and French model and actress Laetitia Casta as an artist.
Watson said he wanted to create an art-driven project and was inspired by 1930s and 1940s cinema to tell stories about women, each accompanied by a partner, friend or confidante. Copeland, for example, plays a stripper who is working with her partner, portrayed by dancer Calvin Royal III, to become ballet dancers.
"The idea was to change Pirelli, and not to do Misty or Julia or Laetitia as pinups. That is why I introduced quite strongly some men into this, because it was about their lives," Watson said.
The Pirelli calendar's focus on pinups came from its start in 1964 as a freebie for suppliers and customers to hang in places like mechanics' garages. Over the years, it evolved into a major platform for top photographers, and since Annie Liebowitz's 2016 edition it has been moving away from nudity.
The 40 photographs in Watson's calendar include several modest nudes: Hadid sits pensively in a shower, arms wrapped around her legs and partially shielded by glazed glass. Copeland is curved into a ball.
Copeland had no qualms about posing nude, saying she was aware of how the calendar had evolved. She was especially excited to participate after last year's all-black cast recreating Alice in Wonderland, which she described as "pushing the movement forward."
Watson's vision, she said, portrays strong women who are taking charge of their lives, which is fitting these days.
"I think women are taking a stand, we are standing up for ourselves and we have something to say," Copeland said. "I think this calendar has an amazing representation of this."
While he is known largely as a fashion and celebrity photographer, Watson noted his experience directing hundreds of commercials, including for Exxon and Toyota, which gave him experience working with actors.
"I wanted to make the pictures a little diverse and complicated," he said.
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