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 trailblazing supermodel and budding screenwriter Precious Lee works on a script, she likes to kick off her shoes and lie down on the ground to connect with the earth.
So, for her 2023 Pirelli Calendar shoot with Emma Summerton, this is exactly what Lee did.
“We were switching the set around and [Emma] was like, ‘What are you doing when you're actually writing?’” said the Atlanta-born model, one of the most sought-after in fashion today. “And I'm like, ‘I lie on the floor... I have to lie flat sometimes and just reconnect with the earth’.”
Summerton’s response was immediate: “‘Then why have we got shoes on you? Take your shoes off and lie on the ground.’ And she did, and... that’s when the pictures started to happen with Precious because we approached it as her as a writer, rather than as a model wearing a dress. And all the elements came together.”
Portrait of the writer
In the photographer’s Love Letters to the Muse-themed Calendar, in which Summerton pays tribute to the women who have influenced her creatively by photographing models who share those talents and passions, Lee embodies The Storyteller.
“It was a really nice moment of going from taking a fashion picture and, through conversation, it turning into more of a portrait of her as a writer, which was really interesting and fun,” Summerton said.
Lee, who is a passionate advocate for race and size diversity across fashion, television and film, described the shoot as “dreamy” and appreciated the organic, collaborative nature of Summerton’s approach. “I really loved how she asked questions... I thought that was really cool to bring that into the shoot.”
The set was a stark, white, Kubrick-inspired room, with just a lamp, cream couch and a photograph of some flowers. It was “like the empty page where the thoughts, the characters can come to life”, Summerton explained. Light filtered in through the blinds of a single window on to Lee, who wore a long, purple Di Petsa dress selected to represent flowing ink and a wet, sculpted headpiece dyed to match the dress.
“I love being able to get into character and to show a different part of myself that is more expressive and creative,” Lee said. “And it's just such a cool way of expressing the duality that I feel I have and that I contain in my job, and being able to express myself as a screenwriter as well as a model.”
In recent years Lee has proved an unstoppable force, bringing her own agenda to the fashion industry (“That was the only way I could do it,” she said), and is credited with helping to usher in a new era of inclusivity in the fashion world.
“In recent years Lee has proved an unstoppable force, bringing her own agenda to the fashion industry”
In 2015, she became the first Black curve model to appear in the pages of American Vogue. The next year she was the first Black curve model to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Lee, who is also an actress, has since walked runways for Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Fendace, Jean Paul Gaultier, Balmain, Moschino and Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty, and starred in campaigns for numerous luxury brands. In September 2020, she became one of the first curve models to walk for Versace and the first African American curve model to star on their Spring 2021 campaign. In September 2021, she appeared in US Vogue Cover as one of “the models changing an industry”
“I love creating moments for the first time and breaking the mold,” Lee said, adding that appearing in the Pirelli Calendar was “super exciting”, knowing “what I'm bringing in and what I represent and the people that I speak to”.
Blazing a trail
Lee, who decided at middle school to become a lawyer, started modelling at 18 after she attended an open call in Atlanta. While I was in school - when presented the opportunity “I know I'm not here to create sameness,” she said.
“While I was in school – When presented the opportunity to become a model, I realized that my connection to advocacy and presence as a model would help diminish negative societal limits that are placed on women bodies through my work, especially in the high fashion space.”
Making fashion her own was a challenge, but she took it on. “I think it's the reason why I became a model with a mission and a model with a passion,” she said.
“Being in a position where I can do that with my job feels so dreamy sometimes and I'm so grateful that I was able to stay the course and not get discouraged by not having a path that was already paved for me.”
As for screenwriting, Lee says it is something “so sacred to me and it feels therapeutic”. She partly begun writing scripts because I realized many of the roles presented are rarely written with an actress like me in mind. I want to make a positive impact on transformation of imagery that includes TV and film.
“I've always had the passion for writing, I've always had these stories, it's always so natural, that Ithought, ‘Why don't you write the story that you want to see?’ And I think it was a way for me to step up and make my own dream a reality.”