The Wee Hours: Pirelli's Nude Calendar Girls at the Armory

The year of magical striptease.

alima4 042706 e1323897360502 The Wee Hours: Pirelli's Nude Calendar Girls at the ArmorySupermodel Isabeli Fontata walked to the edge of the Corsican cliff in a bikini bottom that matched her own skin tone, and once she took off that thin bit of cloth, she had nothing on. Her back arched and a hand went up to flutter wind-flung hair. She held her breasts and let them go, bearing them to the canyon below as the photographer Mario Sorrenti moved in, slowly, to snap the picture.

And then the video froze, leaving her nude, immobile figure projected upon an enormous screen. The audience went silent. We forgot we were watching a movie.

For The Observer, who is not a morning person, it was a lot to take in at 10 a.m.

We were sitting in a marble back room at Gustavino’s to get the first look at the 2012 Pirelli Calendar, the latest edition of the most coveted time-keeping device in the world. It’s the stuff of legend. Only industry types and loyal high-rolling customers of the tire manufacturer can get their hands on it, this calendar, and for good reason: it features artfully commissioned spreads of the 12 most beautiful women in the world wearing nothing but what nature gave them.

The projector kept placing these indelible images before us: a naked Joan Smalls amid a woody, tree sap-smothered grove cupping palms beneath her stomach, Lara Stone spreading herself like butter on a plush wicker love seat, Natasha Poly enmeshed in a mangled hammock. Kate Moss topless against a barn, Kate Moss topless inside a barn, Kate Moss naked in a barn. Indelible images, and one for every month.

“It’s not sexy, like in-your-face sexy,” Mr. Sorrenti, the calendar’s photographer, said in a voice over. “I wanted it to be natural.”

The odd narration—seemed pretty sexy to us, Mario!—came after the photographer instructed a bare-bodied Ms. Stone to rest her arms upon the crags of a sloped rock. The Observer glanced away from the screen. Italian journalists and paparazzi buzzed among themselves, hauling cameras above their heads or punching keys on their keyboards. The foreign press corps vastly outnumbered its American counterpart. The reveal continued—more models tossing off bathrobes to dip their big toes into a fish-teeming brook, more models undressing and scaling the branches of abutting trees—as the journalists watched through thick black-rimed glasses. The Italian press, hopped up on only coffee and pastries, were glued.

“Just a few housekeeping things,” the master of ceremonies reminded us. “There’s no smoking in here.”

If only! The presentation was about to end; all that was left were the actual images, the chosen 12 that would make up the calendar. In virtual form, these 12 disciples waved hello to us onscreen, each nude shot of each model curling digitally into view before snuggling tightly out of sight. The bodies, all bare, claimed space before us for a mere second, then disappeared, never to be seen again. They fell like autumn leaves.

It was the closest we’d ever come, we thought at the time, to actually holding that cherished Pirelli Calendar.

 

Later that night, The Observer split a cab with a friend who writes for a fashion website and sped uptown through freezing drizzle—10 minutes of straightening the bow tie of our tuxedo—and by the time she finished changing from flats to heels we had rounded a rain-slicked Park Avenue and arrived at the Armory, which was to play host that night to socialistos instead of soldiers, a deluge of black and white spangled just barely by the bright dresses of the models and their acolytes.

The grand hall was split into parlors, girded by Corinthian columns and splashed with bright frescoes. The women waved off canapes, walking past a looking glass that could flash back at them the floating reds and creams of their dresses. The men had no use for a mirror: we all wore the same uniform, all held half-empty flutes, all pinballed from canape platter to fashion acquaintance and back.

“Oh, how was Miami!” said a man outside, as we caught a pre-dinner smoke.

“Well, I’m back here,” Amy Sacco said.

By the steps to the party, Ms. Sacco, who once handpicked lucky guests of her tiny Bungalow 8, again worked a door, but just for laughs this time. Of the people she deemed suitable for entrance: a group of Italians who, like her, were recently back from Art Basel, an actor who arrived in a suit he had just bought at H+M, and the professional hockey player Sean Avery.

Then we walked into the main atrium, a space big enough you could nearly fit Central Park inside it—perhaps even all of Manhattan. The trays of tartare gave way to dinner plates laid out on the many tables, the equinox of appetizers segueing to an Indian summer of extra-rare steak, and then to the chilly solstice of mocha dessert.

“Why does no one smoke anymore here!” said an Italian man lighting his next cigarette with the cherry of his last. “This is America, America of the Marlboro Man. But no one smokes. In Rome, everybody smokes.”

He noted the people around us outside—all Italians, he pointed out. Not to mention the guest of honor. The dapper Mr. Sorrenti is being hailed as the first Italian to shoot Il Cal—a point of pride for Pirelli—even if his mother was more Big Apple than Naples, and moved young Mario here when he was 10.

“I used to look at the Pirelli Calendar so long ago,” the proud Mama Sorrenti told us later in the night. We had just watched the same video we had seen that morning, the making of the calendar. Adrian Brody and Julianne Moore were at her table, both glued to the screen.

“I started to tear up,” Ms. Sorrenti told us.

After Andrea Bocelli took the stage and began crooning an Elvis song, three young women whisked The Observer away from the table and outside to a cab that peeled off fast down Park Avenue, barreling toward Soho with a cargo of one tipsy reporter in a tuxedo, three glam, slim figures in evening gowns and one cardboard package containing the 2012 Pirelli Calendar.

The wine-drunk revelers at the generous Wooster Street loft grabbed chairs around a dining table, stood on the couches, and did everything they could to get a view of the grand unveiling of Il Cal. We wasted no time in opening it.

And there it was, in the physical, in the flesh. Our friend brushed her hair back and revealed January’s picture—ohh, aahh, wooowww. The crowd whooped and yelled. They asked for more. We lit a cigarette, watching. Ohhhh, aaahhh, woowwww. Then the next month, the next month, the next month.

Ohhhh, yessss.

The calendar kept going as if it would never end, as if the number of months in a year was infinite. The pictures had lulled us into a timeless trance. Lara Stone, Milla Jovovich, Natasha Poly, their poses there and then gone, fallen like leaves, time passing faster and faster, the months flying out of the year, one after another until there were no more pages to turn.

nfreeman@observer.com