In what felt like a party thrown by a particularly chic James Bond villain spliced with a Fellini flick, last night’s Pirelli calendar launch party at Pier Maua in Rio de Janeiro featured circus acrobats in unitards, Sophia Loren, and unexpected guest Owen Wilson.
Wilson was holding court with longtime friend David Ross, president of ReelFx Studio, when a chubby Brazilian septuagenarian waddled over to him. “Ching, ching,” the man said eagerly, raising a glass. Wilson deliberated a moment, raised his caipirinha, and with a removed air of irony — as if on a movie’s 40th take — let forth a staccato “Ching. Ching.”
Wilson explained to the Cut that he was in Brazil to see the Formula 1 race in São Paulo: “That was the third Formula 1 race I’d gone to, and I was talking to the driver over there,” he said, indicating Felipe Massa, who took third place in the race. “The first time I went was, like, five or seven years ago in Barcelona, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of drama ... And then when I saw [a race] in Malaysia, I was like, Wruh? — ” he said, giving a Scooby-Doo assessment of the track action. São Paulo's race was the best: “Seeing it in that rain, it was like — there was a lot of action and stuff, so you can see how it’s such a popular sport.”
At that point, Summer Rayne Oakes — who, despite having a name that sounds like a feminine-hygiene product, is a calendar model and environmental activist — approached the actor, but Wilson held the flirtatious Oakes at bay.
As Sophia Loren mounted the stage, an event functionary waved at us to move to the side; we ignored him and were promptly elbowed by a short, mustachioed man. Moments later, the man attached to the rogue elbow was introduced as former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In his stage banter, Lula endorsed the social activism associated with this year's calendar, saying it “demonstrates that women can be beautiful without clothes and with clothes.”
Speaking to the Cut, Loren agreed with Lula's assessment: “I think that anything you do for charity is something that’s very, very important, because there are so many people that suffer in this world, and we can do something about it, then I think everybody should be ready for it.”
Tunisian model Hanaa Ben Abdesslem wore a rose-petal-pink Ialea dress more revealing than her outfits for the calendar. It left little anatomy to the imagination. Asked about this paradox, she replied, “Maybe. But I am woman.”
“You can be everywhere nude, like every place, and it’s a beautiful picture,” Ben Abdesslem said. But the photograph Steve McCurry took of her for the Pirelli calendar is “not about the body, it’s about the personality … When I took the picture, Steve just asked, ‘Be natural,’ and ‘If you can, just with your eyes, send your message.’”
“I cannot do nudity because I am [an] Arabic woman,” Ben Abdesslem added. “I’m Muslim, and I am from Tunisia, and I have [a] different message for young girls in Tunisia, you know. This year, it’s not about nudity. It’s about something bigger, something more interesting.”
That “something bigger” hinges on social and environmental causes, probing the booming growth of Brazil’s economy and juxtaposing it with some of the country’s poverty. Petra Nemcova's photograph, for instance, took place in one of Rio’s slum favelas. “But what I love about favelas and where we shot, you can feel the culture,” said Nemcova, dressed in vintage Valentino. “It breathes on you. You feel the real culture and essence of Brazil, of Rio.”
“This year, there’s no nudity, but we got exposed,” she continued. “But not our skin — our hearts.”
But those thatched-roof huts stitched to the Brazilian hillside were a world away from the glitz of a black-tie gala. In a sea of tuxedoes, an Italian journalist in a blue bespoke suit stood out — a glimmer of cerulean in a sea of penguins. We give him the thumbs-up, and he jokingly teeter-tottered his hand, as if to say, “So-so.”