The 2023 Pirelli Calendar celebrates the muses who have inspired photographer Emma Summerton and, more broadly, the remarkable power, passion and talent of women
Sprawled on scorched desert sands resplendent in a gold dress, Egyptian-style jewellery, red platform heels and with a tower of braided black hair, Adwoa Aboahwas every inch The Queen of Emma Summerton’s 2023 Love Letters to the Muse Pirelli Calendar shoot.
Effortlessly majestic against the stark set, the globally renowned British model and actress perfectly embodied the muse that photographer Summerton had chosen for her.
It’s a persona that Aboah lives up to in more ways than one. Not only does she possess the natural grace and beauty of an Egyptian queen of ancient times, but she has also become the valued leader of a growing community across the world through her work as an activist. In 2015 she co-founded Gurls Talk – a non-profit organisation dedicated to the wellbeing and mental health of young girls and women, which she says is “the most important thing in my life”.
The daughter ofna Ghanaian father and English mother, Aboah is one of the most recognised faces in the fashion world, while now embarking on a career in film and television. She has appeared in global campaigns for names such as Dior, Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein, made her television debut as Becks in 4th season of Top Boy, and will be most recently seen in the highly anticipated television series Willow.
She has also appeared on numerous Vogue covers – including editions in the UK, US, Hong Kong, Italy, Poland and Mexico. But it was being the cover star of Edward Enninful’s first edition of British Vogue in 2017 that she says “changed my entire career”. In the same year she was named Model of the Year by the British Fashion Council.
Even so, it is her role as an ambassador for mental health that is closest to her heart: “I love the responsibility I have for my community and the people I love and the people that are not only part of my career but also, more importantly, part of the work that I do surrounding mental health.”
“I love the responsibility I have for my community and the people I love”
In 2020 Aboah appeared on a Vogue cover with English footballer Marcus Rashford among “The Faces of Hope” for Enninful’s Activism Now issue. And she was named the 2021 Social Mover of the Year for using her “heightened platform to change the world for the better” in the Industry Vote of Models.com Model of the Year Awards.
Addressing taboo topics
It was Aboah’s own experiences with drug addiction, mental health issues and depression (resulting in a suicide attempt that left her in a coma in 2015) that led her to establish Gurls Talk as a safe space where girls “can access mental health resources, share their experiences and support each other so they never feel alone or have to reach a breaking point”.
Aboah believes that it’s “speaking a story of lived experience that makes you feel less alone” and adds that in the Gurls Talk community “there’s no topic too taboo to be discussed”.
She goes on to say “we’re never kind enough to ourselves. So... be kind to yourself, because we’re really just doing our best and that is completely good enough under the circumstances of what’s going on in this great, confusing planet.”
With her trademark honesty she also admits she hasn’t yet figured it all out. “To be quite honest, my story, and your story, is forever changing. And life is really, really messy. And that’s completely fine. And it’s enlightening to know that you will forever be learning more things about yourself. And that will push you closer to knowing yourself better.”
“It’s enlightening to know that you will forever be learning more things about yourself”
It’s this strength and resilience that inspired Summerton to choose Aboah as The Queen in her Pirelli Cal, which she says is all about “celebrating incredible women” and “creating a world where we get to hear what they say, see what they create and be inspired by them”.
“She is definitely an incredible, strong, beautiful, amazing, inspirational woman” she said of Aboah.
Aboah’s look for the shoot was inspired by Queen Nefertiti of Egypt and by happy coincidence the role rang true for her: “My mum’s always said I reminded her of a kind of Nefertiti... like I might have lived that in a past life. So that was quite beautiful. I kind of just had that in the back of my mind.”
Aboah, who previously appeared in Tim Walker’s 2018 Calendar, welcomed the way The Cal has evolved in recent years “to be reflective of cultural changes, intersectionality, diversity and lots of topics that have come up”.
“That’s what’s drawn me to it,” she said. “It’s just so great to be back. It’s such an amazing honour to be part of it. I feel like I’m meant to be here, and be part of this project.”