Cara Delevingne

The Performer

"If I can inspire anyone just once, I am a happy person"

The 2023 Pirelli Calendar celebrates the muses who have inspired photographer Emma Summerton and, more broadly, the remarkable power, passion and talent of women

When Cara Delevingne was asked to describe in one word her photoshoot for Emma Summerton’s Love Letters to the Muse-themed Pirelli Calendar, she picked “magical”.

It’s an apt description of the stunning backdrop designed for the London-born model and actress, who was photographed striding towards the camera from a forest of giant dandelions, clad in a web-like black macramé outfit, sparkling headdress and high heels.

In Summerton’s magical-realism infused Calendar, Delevingne embodies The Performer, an exuberant yet enigmatic star who keeps her audience rapt. Energetic and entertaining, Delevingne brought her muse to life with flair.

Making an entrance

“She was The Performer and she gave us quite a wonderful performance,” said Summerton, who also took the photograph used in the backdrop, a close-up of dandelion heads, which she considers “a magical plant”.

“I made her a dandelion forest because she is, like, a floaty sort of wild. You don’t know which way it’s going to go... she’s hard to grasp hold of. That’s what we love about her. It’s like this wildness, but delicate. A child-woman... She’s not like anybody else. She’s from a fairy garden... somewhere we’ve never been.”

“You don’t know which way it’s going to go... she’s hard to grasp hold of. That’s what we love about her”

Costume director Amanda Harlech said Delevingne’s outfit was about movement and designed to represent her “shape-shifter, chameleon-like nature”. The web-like costume clung to her torso and legs as she stepped through a large slash in the canvas.

For Delevingne, who is also a musician and a singer, shooting the Pirelli Calendar has long been a dream. She said of working with Summerton: “I love Emma, what she creates, her muses, her environment on set, everything about it. It just makes you feel so part of being the character. It was really wonderful.”

She described the muse she interprets as “an enigma... a mystery. She’s captivating.”

Although portraying The Performer “came pretty naturally” to her, it also took time to get into “because it was definitely a different type of performer [to the one] I’m used to.I just love to make people laugh, so this felt a lot more like [it had] an intriguing mystery to it.”

Class act

Delevingne, who has been known for much of her career as the face of Burberry, got her big break in modelling aged 18 when she met Christopher Bailey, the label’s design director. He cast her in her first catwalk show at London Fashion Week in 2011. The following year she starred in an iconic advertising campaign for the brand alongside actor Eddie Redmayne.

Soon Delevingne was striding catwalks across the world. A favourite of Stella McCartney and Karl Lagerfeld, she has also modelled for Dior, Moschino, Louis Vuitton, Oscar de la Renta and Fendi. She was crowned Model of the Year at both the 2012 and 2014 British Fashion Awards.

Her acting career began with a small partin Joe Wright’s 2012 adaptation of Anna Karenina. She went on to play a lead role in teen drama Paper Towns (2015), appeared as the Enchantress in Suicide Squad (2016) and starred with Rihanna in Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017). More recently Delevingne appeared with Steve Martin and Selena Gomez in the television series Only Murders in the Building (2022).

Asked in which facet of her career she feels most herself – model, actress or singer – Delevingne said: “For me, all of them... it’sjust all under an umbrella. Music is very much me, though... because it’s not like a hat I put on, it’s just something that’s always there. There’s always a running theme tune in my head.”

“Music is very much me... There’s always a running theme tune in my head”

The British artist, who recorded a song with Pharrell Williams in 2014 called I Feel Everything, said she expected to release more music in the future, but had no timetable. “That’s how I’ve always gone with music. It just happens when it happens. But it’s something I’ll do forever.”

Inspiring others

Delevingne, who has spoken about her battles with depression while a teenager, said these days she feels much happier and more at peace. “Everything’s a bit more rounded... I feel just wonderful and dreamy.”

An ardent advocate for LGBTQ+ causes, Delevingne was recently among 12 stars featured in the British Vogue cover story Come Together: Meet the Faces of the LGBTQ+ Revolution – a celebration of 50 years of Pride.

The model, who has described herself as pansexual, is also producing a documentary series with the BBC and Hulu called Planet Sex about “sexuality, identity and gender across the world”.

“We’ve really only scratched the surface on this huge, massive world that is all these subjects, but it has been the best years of my life doing this project,” she said.

“If I can inspire anyone just once, I am a happy person”

Asked if she considers herself an inspiration to others, she said: “If I can inspire anyone just once, I am a happy person, but I hope to live my life in a way that is honest and can help people. When I say I’m a performer, I do like to put on a performance, but I also like to be honest about struggles – to help people push through their own.”