RuPaul appears as the Queen of Hearts in the latest version of the famous and fashionable “Pirelli calendar,” an annual gift given to employees of the Italian tire manufacturing company.
The theme of this year’s calendar is Alice in Wonderland. It features an all-black cast shot by white photographer Tim Walker and stars RuPaul alongside other celebrities like Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, legendary supermodel Naomi Campbell, rapper Sean Combs and EGOT winner Whoopi Goldberg. (EGOT stands for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony, in case you didn’t know.)
The calendar is styled by Edward Enninful, the newly appointed editor of British Vogue who is the first black person ever to have held the position. The shots were inspired by the illustrations of Sir John Tenniel, the original illustrator for Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its 1871 followup Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.
During the shoot, the models and crew reportedly listened to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Otis Redding’s “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher & Higher,” and the set featured lots of strange, stylized props like “cakes with plastic hands erupting out of them, burnt toast and a looming, giant stuffed hare that [refused] to stay upright.”
The Pirelli calendar is known for being fashion forward. Its first 1964 edition featured nude and sexually charged images, its 1987 edition had an all-black cast as well and in 2016, famous photographer Annie Leibovitz shot powerful women including musicians Yoko Ono and Patti Smith, tennis champion Serena Williams and comedian Amy Schumer.
The 1865 book Alice in Wonderland was groundbreaking in its own right for being one of the first children’s books to feature pleasure for pleasure’s sake rather than moral tales of instruction.
South African lawyer and model Thando Hopa (who plays the Princess of Hearts) said, “I hope that people see the intention of this. Personally I don’t find it controversial … I think people really should see the end goal and not obsess in the myopia … this is a unifying effort because now you have Alice looking differently from the way she does. Alice can be anyone.”
The official calendar won’t be out for several more months, so here are some 20 preview shots of it — they’re kind of amazing.