Pirelli celebrates 50 years of its calendar girls with release of lost edition shot by Helmut Newton in 1986

As a previously unpublished edition shot by Helmut Newton for 1986 is released, we reflect on the publication's glamorous history

The crossover between cars and fashion is strange, and often strained.

Young fashion brands and creatives can be coaxed into the most awkward of pairings in order to pay the bills, while Mercedes-Benz has cornered the market in sponsorship of fashion weeks. As the tyre company Pirelli celebrates 50 years of its calendars with the publication of a “lost” issue shot by Helmut Newton for 1986, the roster of big-name talent in front of the camera and behind it proves that the relationship can mean big things for all involved.

Although Pirelli is an Italian company, the first calendar or “cal”, published for 1964, was actually the idea of the UK subsidiary of the company, which commissioned the British photographer Robert Freeman and the art director Derek Forsyth to create a marketing tool that would make the brand stand out from its domestic competitors. But there was more than just fashion and glamour in mind for those contributors who, caught up in the youth revolution of the time, chose young newcomers to model, photographing them against exotic beaches or natural locations. In 1972, Sarah Moon became the first female photographer to shoot for the calendar, bringing her trademark ethereal aesthetic to the product that was  distributed only to important customers.

In 1974, it was announced that financial  difficulties would put a halt to the publication, but a decade later it was back under the control of a new art director, Martyn Walsh, with the German photographer Uwe Ommer behind the lens. In 1987, Terence Donovan created the first Pirelli calendar to feature only black  models, including a then 16-year-old Naomi Campbell at the beginning of a career that has spanned nearly three decades.

In 1993, a change in management at Pirelli meant the calendars were taken in a new direction – all references to tyres and even subtle product placement were dropped – and a new era began. For the 1994 instalment, Herb Ritts shot supermodels Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen and Kate Moss in “A Homage to Women” that intended to capture “the women of the 1990s and their place in the world: proud, sexy and beautiful on the inside”. Since that time, the connection to the fashion world has become ever stronger.

Occasionally, male subjects have permeated the usually all-alpha-female cast – in 1988 Barry Lategan included a male model for the first time, and a decade later, Bruce Weber cast actors and musicians including John Malkovich, Robert Mitchum and B B King. Refreshingly for a “glamour” publication, experience can outweigh the cult of youth, as in Nick Knight’s 2004 edition, which included Catherine Deneuve and Isabella Rosselini, or Inez and Vinoodh’s 2007 Hollywood special, featuring Sophia Loren. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 2012 that the publication was shot by an Italian photographer, when Mario Sorrenti took Kate Moss, Milla Jovovich and Isabeli Fontana to Corsica.

In 1985, in-house competition between the British and Italian teams led to two calendars being commissioned. Pirelli Italia appointed Helmut Newton, who by that time was renowned not only for his nudes but his work as a true fashion creative. But that version didn’t go into production, as Newton stepped down for personal reasons and the Brit-commissioned Bert Stern images were sent to print.

To celebrate 50 years since the launch of the calendar, for its 2014 edition Pirelli has reconstructed that 1986 Newton cal – on which he worked with stylist Manuela Pavesi, now best known as the “right-hand woman” to Miuccia Prada – seen for the first time,  fully realised, a decade after the celebrated photographer’s death.

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