Guinevere Van Seenus

The Photographer

"I love people being themselves. I love it."

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

Animal-lover Guinevere van Seenus had a special bonding moment with the co-star of her Pirelli Calendar shoot: an owl named Lucas.

“He was dreamy, super dreamy,” van Seenus recalled. “There’s something about those eyes, you just get lost. It’s like he’s on another level, another plane with different thoughts – and more intelligent than all of us... I just fell in love, you know?”

The moment occurred as Emma Summerton photographed van Seenus standing in front of a full-length mirror petting Lucas, who was perched on top of the glass. The owl quivered as the model stroked his feathers, then closed his eyes. A hush fell over the studio. Amanda Harlech, the shoot’s fashion director, described the ambiance as surreal and mystical, adding: “It was humbling and sacred when she stroked the owl”.

Such special on-set occurrences are among the reasons van Seenus was cast in Summerton’s Calendar. As well as both being animal lovers, the photographer and model have worked together numerous times, developing “a very fluid, collaborative, easy creative exchange”. Summerton believes this is in part because van Seenus is also a photographer, her work having been published by magazines including German Vogue.

The model was, in fact, “the very first spark of inspiration” for the 2023 Pirelli Calendar’s theme, Love Letters to the Muse, which pays homage to the female artists, activists, athletes and other trailblazers who have inspired Summerton throughout her life.

“The model was ‘the very first spark of inspiration’ for the 2023 Pirelli Calendar’s theme, Love Letters to the Muse”

Creative inspiration

In the Calendar, van Seenus plays the role of The Photographer. She was shot against a woodland backdrop, sitting on a chair appearing to take self-portraits in the mirror with her own Rolleiflex camera. Her outfit included a stunning pink and gold sequinned cape by Naeem Khan and a helmet-like black hat.

“There is something really special about sharing the love of photography with a person you’re photographing,” said Summerton. “So Guinevere, she was like the first idea, the photographer. And then it made me think about the different kinds of women who have inspired me through life from very early days.”

Summerton loves to have “a bigger conversation with the models I’m working with, about who they are, what they do, what their life is about. And I think it opens up a different kind of collaboration, which creates a different, stronger image in my mind.”

Van Seenus said that on set she felt “seen on a deep level” and described the shoot as “magical”, noting the appreciation she and Summerton have for one another. “It’s almost like you're absorbing each other in a specific way because you understand each other.”

Working with the greats

Massachusetts-born van Seenus, the daughter of Dutch immigrants, grew up in Washington DC and Santa Barbara. She started modelling aged 15, and her career took off when she moved to Europe in the mid-90s.

“It was like a match to gasoline,” van Seenussaysof her sudden leap from obscurity to non-stop work.

Her career quickly reached stratospheric heights, with the world’s top photographers and fashion designers captivated by her beauty and presence. She has been a muse to, among others, Irving Penn, Steven Meisel and Craig McDean, and worked with brands including Chanel, Jil Sander, Versace, Moschino, Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu.

Photographer Mario Sorrenti told the New York Times that van Seenus “looks like a woman out of a Renaissance painting or a Greek sculpture”, while Paolo Roversi has described her as “like the Venus de Milo”.

The shoots marks the third Pirelli Calendar for van Seenus. She appeared in its pages in both 2006 and 2012, photographed first by creative duo Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott and then by Sorrenti.

The model, who loves painting, art and jewellery design, said she appreciated today’s increasing acceptance of different body types, adding that even as a model she sometimes felt “like you were never quite ‘that’ enough”.

“I am so thrilled and grateful that you don’t have to be ‘anything’ enough now. You just have to be your best version of you. And how gorgeous is that? That’s really where the beauty is to me, whether I’m taking pictures, whether I’m around women... just the experiences, the energy. I love people being themselves. I love it.”

“I love people being themselves. I love it.”