Prince Gyasi’s 2024 Pirelli Calendar wraps timeless artistry with community notes
Wrapped in a blue abyss, a young Prince Gyasi is pictured playing with colourful tokens in the 2024 Pirelli Calendar. Only it’s not actually the 28-year-old photographer, but Abul Faid Yussif, a seven-year-old pretending to be him. Prince was behind the camera, capturing Yussif inside his mind. Here, on the cover, the visionaire’s creative innocence is epitomised – a driving motivation behind his exquisite execution of the docket’s 50th edition entitled Timeless.
When I met Prince, despite his aptitude for conceiving hues, he was dressed in all black (except for the silver accents on his square-toe Gucci boots). He’d just finished a few rounds of interviews ahead of the Calendar’s release, and unfortunately, I wasn’t his last. It’d only been two minutes, and we hadn’t gotten through formal introductions. Instead, I stood in front of the inspired creator, an architect of vibrance, if you will, watching as he dabbed spilled liquid from the carpet with a napkin. I had entered his room in The Edition Hotel when Prince, moving to greet me, knocked a can of Dole Pineapple Juice over. “Wait, let me wipe off this part,” Prince insisted before I approached the leftover dribble. “This is terrible.”
The moment was tender – there I was, standing in front of this esteemed artist, inside a private room stocked with sweet snacks and soft drinks all set up to honour his transformative work. Yet, he was concerned about staining the hotel rug. Right then, I saw Prince’s purity, his inner child. He hadn’t told me how this part of himself inspired his concept for the Calendar, but it was clear he’d been protecting and channeling it all his life.
From international supermodel Naomi Campbell, His Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, and renowned actor Idris Elba to poet Amanda Gorman and revolutionary producer Jeymes Samuel, this year’s Pirelli Calendar featured leaders, inventors, writers, and icons through the lens of an adolescent Prince. The 2024 special edition presents 12 images that pull you into a subverse of colour, setting each token individual against a hue-specific background, delineating them as the timeless personas Prince sees – a testament to their permanent effect on the world. He tells their stories and his own by channeling his heritage and his youth. As the first Black artist to shoot for Pirelli, Prince aimed to embolden a younger generation, inspiring them to be fearless in their pursuit, whetever that may be– and in my opinion, he did.
Abul Faid Yussif poses as a young Prince Gyasi for the cover of the 2024 Pirelli Calendar (The 2024 Pirelli Calendar)
With the introduction and expansion of tyre competitors in 1964, Pirelli UK Limited, the Italian multinational conglomerate’s British subordinate, sought to increase its visibility by adding a new facet to the company – a print book offered exclusively to its customers. The Group hoped they could beat the competition by utilising this distinct marketing strategy to not only celebrate their loyal community, but current cultural phenomenon. For the original Calendar, Pirelli tapped art director Derek Forsyth and photographer Robert Freeman, the creator behind the achromatic stills of The Beatles.
Throughout the past four decades, the Calendar has been at the vanguard of present time, producing images that impress upon modern ideas. Between Paolo Roversi, Terence Donovan, Patrick Demarchelier, and Annie Leibovitz, the world’s most iconic photographers have combined their own avant-garde style with intentional set and fashion direction to formulate and put forth their individual views. Whether you’re referring to Sarah Moon’s 1972 docket that established her as the first female photographer to shoot for the Group or Mert and Marcus’ reaction to sensual beauty with models like Kate Moss and Gisele Bündchen in their 2006 edition, each Calendar has been modishly produced as a constructive instrument in society.
When defining his approach, Prince thought back on how he perceived each creative when he was child. The goal was to channel their immutable effect, illustrate the community among them, while enforcing this message: “I may be the first but I refuse to be the last” to encapsulate this idea of being timeless.
“You have to remember the first time you heard of the name Naomi Campbell. You have to remember and you have to see it the way it was, not trying to tamper with it. It has to be authentic,” Prince told me. “But at the same time, because you want to create a surreal world, you have to make sure it’s coming from your memories from when you were a kid because, for me, I‘m still a child. Everything is like a playground to me and bringing all these people together and creating unique sets for them, I had to be a child again.”
“They are the ones that kind of created a pattern for you to follow,” he continued.
His Royal Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu (The 2024 Pirelli Calendar)
Prince admitted he was influenced by each innovator over the years, but his artistic path was almost predetermined, long before he found his niche. Growing up, his parents were musicians and his grandfather was a former “traditional pop artist”. Whether he liked it or not, art was intrinsic to his life. However, Prince had developed his own rare relationship with colour too.
As a child, the Ghanian artist quickly realised his sensory association was different from that of others. He had been diagnosed with synesthesia early on, meaning his brain routes sensory information through irregular senses. Tuesday isn’t just the second day of the week for him. The number four isn’t just a measurement or quantity. And the letter “P” isn’t only the first letter of his name. Everything was, and still is, thought of as a certain shade or hue.
Now, Prince is one of the most admired and established photographers, with a technique indicative of his background in painting and his inherent multicoloured vision. He’ll take a subject or a landscape and place it under a kaleidoscopic structure – a method that appears like organic animation and one that was reflected in his Calendar.
Angela Bassett (The 2024 Pirelli Calendar)
By the looks of her page, you’d think Angela Basset had been transported to a different universe or trapped inside a two-dimensional world. The Black Panther actress holds a colossal gold key – the same one seen with “young Prince” on the cover. Behind Basset, two grand doors lead to a yellow chasm. She assumes the role of a conqueror, standing barefoot in rippled water enveloped by a cracked blue and green molding. In Prince’s eyes, Basset is someone capable of unlocking ethereal views – an actress, but a lasting treasure no less.
For Jeymes Samuel’s shot, he was placed in front of a lambent landscape, peering through retractable lenses on a pink chair. The producer donned a ruby red suit with a collared yellow undershirt, and the long blue leg of his contraption in place of a tie. Samuel is a kind of mad scientist, presenting neoteric projects to the world as he does. But let it be known, the music aficionado doesn’t believe himself to be the crazed innovator Prince sees.
“He sees me as a visionary. And so I’m like a scientist. And incidentally, a lot of people see me as some kind of mad scientist,” the songwriter said. “Personally, I think the whole world’s mad and I’m the only sane one.”
Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of Hidden Figures, was paired with Amanda Gorman for the Calendar. The two women donned voluptuous feathered gowns. Their hue was a mustard yellow, embellished by hot pink and royal blue. Gorman was up on a ladder to the right of Shetterly. Behind them was a big board with equations for speed, power, and time written across. Gorman and Shetterly were educators, writers with influential prowess, technique, curiosity, and a burning desire to uncover the truth.
“What I really like about Prince as the photographer for this Calendar is that he merges two things,” Shetterly carefully explained to me. “He’s got this very specific vision of blackness, of African-ness, of African American-ness, that he is trying to communicate, and yet his art and his images are very transcendent. They are universal, they’re accessible, they’re visceral, they’re aesthetically very appealing. You look at them, and you feel yourself drawn into these colours and these images and these people.”
Amanda Gorman and Margot Lee Shetterly (The 2024 Pirelli Calendar)
“He’s created this, this world that is specific, but it’s transcendent. You know, that’s, that’s what you have to do if you want something that is, uh, that’s, that’s relevant, that’s appealing,” Shetterly said.
As much as Prince’s Pirelli Calendar broadened the scope of storytelling in art and paid homage to the major creators that effect change, the 50th edition was an ode to a group of designers who also appeared unafraid to reshape norms. Stylist Ola-Oluwa Ebiti, whose career progressed in 2018 when there was a focus shift in fashion to West Africa and subsequent African style codes, wanted to feature independent London-based designers with pieces that formed recherché imagery. Selecting runway or archive looks from the major fashion houses wasn’t of interest to Ebiti.
“I think what I really wanted to do was kind of use the designers as this love letter to young foreigners,” Ebiti explained. “Because I think London is really exciting, because all these people come from different parts of London, from different parts of the world. They come to London, either to study, or to like, you know, find a new life for themselves. And then they put that all into their reality in London, into their creation in London.”
Naomi Campbell (The 2024 Pirelli Calendar)
Similar to how Prince’s photographs have a fine art component, the designers Ebiti chose – like Asai Takeaway and Darcey Fleming – sketched and sewed pieces that appeared more like abstract sculptures. Fleming’s bouncy feather garments, worn by Shetterly and Gorman, added contradiction with their natural material (dead hay), but eccentric structure. Meanwhile, Bradley Sharpe, who designed Naomi Campbell’s outfit, plays with silhouttes using abnormal style adornments like stiff, circular waistbands and ballooned head pieces.
Ebiti noted: “I kind of looked at all the designers, all the young designers in London at the moment and what they were saying and what was really relevant at that time. I think I kind of pieced them together in that way, in the narrative of like who the designer was and what they’re doing versus what the image is trying to say as well.”
“A lot of the looks I was really, even in silhouettes, I was really cautious that it wasn’t anything too out of the moment or too young or too fashionable,” he continued. “It was all quite timeless so that if If you’re looking at it 10 years from now, 20 years from now, or even six months from now, you know, it still is very relevant to the eye.”
Prince intended for his Calendar to make viewers think about the permanent significance of community, power, and tranquility. But his composition of the Pirelli Calendar has gone far beyond that, moving those he’s looked up to for years by encouraging them to recognise their own influence and specific skill.
“You know, we’ve still got a long way to go before we experience real diversity, real inclusion, and more importantly, real tolerance of one another on the planet. But I think the 2024 Pirelli Calendar is a huge leap forward within the canvas that we call artistic expression,” Samuel confessed.