The debut of Pirelli's calendar, which began as a U.K. initiative 39 years ago, has become such a globally anticipated media event that it was only fitting that the iconic Italian tire company would deliver a celebration of grand proportions for the annual publication's first-ever gala in the United States.
Despite driving rain, nearly 900 guests, including 120 international journalists flown in for the occasion, turned out at the Park Avenue Armory on Tuesday, December 6, in their best black-tie. Once past two check-in areas and the black carpet arrivals, the likes of Adrien Brody, Valentino Garavani, Julian Schnabel, master of ceremonies Julianne Moore, and Mario Sorrenti—who photographed the 2012 calendar—mingled with cocktails in the armory’s entrance hall.
Nadine Johnson & Associates, which Pirelli hired to oversee the event, brought in Van Wyck & Van Wyck to produce many components of the evening as well as a press conference earlier that morning at Guastavino's. Bronson van Wyck, through his brand experience division and colleagues Marina Luri-Clark and David Hawryluk, worked alongside Pirelli's global director of image and brand extension, Andrea Imperial di Francavilla, U.K. communications manager Julie Naylor, and creative consultant Francesca de Cherubini.
“Because Pirelli is a manufacturing company that’s all about steel, rubber, and technology, they wanted industrial,” said van Wyck, who infused elements of the company’s home city of Milan in his first project with the brand. “They’re also an Italian company, so there’s an Italian design sensibility.” The Upper East Side site was the only venue considered given the space demands, but its combination of historic and industrial components, including the vaulted ceilings, bore an architectural resemblance to Pirelli’s headquarters—something the client was looking for. “We worked with themes from Metropolis as an internal inspiration,” van Wyck added. “The armory was our blank canvas.”
At the conclusion of cocktails in the historic rooms—the decor for which was kept understated with just the addition of black carpet, mirrors, and chrome—guests entered into the Drill Hall for dinner via large, billowing sheer metallic curtains that formed a pathway into the gray-, black-, and white-hued room.
As simple as the design appeared, the logistics of coordinating such a production were far from easy, with much taken into consideration. The armory is in the height of its winter performance season, so van Wyck’s on-site production crew of 113 had to wait for the Sunday afternoon conclusion and breakdown of Shen Wei Dance Arts before initiating their 36-hour set up. Following the gala, the sets were struck in 11 hours—fast enough to accommodate STREB Extreme Action, the next performance scheduled. It also meant cooperating with two separate crews, working around stacked staging from the previous performance and seating risers configured for the upcoming show, and having trucks at the ready to start load out as soon as the last guest left.
“We were literally bookended,” said van Wyck. “The two performances were supposed to dovetail with each other all along, but we were able to work with the production department to occupy their space for 48 hours.” As a result, van Wyck was able to share equipment, trusses, and lighting with the two shows. However, because planning began in February, when neither show had even been designed, it turned out to be, according to Van Wyck, “an intense production collaboration.”
Earlier in the day, the production team staged a high-tech press conference for Pirelli, introducing the calendar to the global media with a set up at Guastavino's that included a computer lab and wireless connection with bandwidth large enough to allow access for 1,000 to file their copy in real time, simultaneously. Press kits in multiple languages along with DVD and Blu-Ray discs lined an entire desk, while café-style tables, for those who stayed for breakfast, had a Sorrenti-shot image of Kate Moss from the Pirelli shoot screened on top.