Photographer Alexandra Leese’s Year of the Dragon in 2024 calendar is “a celebration of culture, beauty and the power of women’s sexuality in a joyful way”
Since their invention in the mid-20th century, erotic calendars have largely been objects of titillation enjoyed by men. Given as glib presents or hung in locker rooms, they typically portray women in sexually suggestive poses, dressed in cheesy outfits which represent the stereotypes of the seasons. Photographer Alexandra Leese and creative director Nellie Eden’s subversive new project is something altogether different. Marking the arrival of the Year of the Dragon in 2024, it approaches the erotic calendar through a distinctly feminine gaze, capturing 13 Asian women from different cultures that honour the lunisolar zodiac – from singer Beabadoobee to model Kiko Mizuhara. Wielding the “playful, wild, sacred, iridescent and unstoppable” spirit of the dragon, in Leese and Eden’s hands, the erotic calendar isn’t an item of objectification, but a means of worshipping the “divine power of female sexuality”.
Born in Hong Kong and based in London, Leese’s work is characterised by a feeling of sensitivity. She has spent her career exploring themes of identity, the body and womanhood, navigating these subjects with both gentle nuance and sharp stylistic clarity. A year in the making, this project sees the photographer veer into a more overtly sexy territory for the first time. “This year’s been tough on a personal level for me, and of course the world feels dark right now for many reasons,” she says. “So maybe in some ways, as a form of escapism or healing for myself, I wanted to create a project that felt like a celebration of culture, beauty and the power of women’s sexuality in a joyful way. I really admire Nellie’s vision and it felt right to collaborate with her on developing this.”
For the project, Leese and Eden worked closely with the women featured in the calendar to explore ideas of sexiness within their individual parameters. As a result, some portraits are more brazen, charged and cheeky, while others feel more soft and inward. “Doing an erotic calendar pushed me to not shy away from bolder expressions of sexuality,” says Leese. “Yet even within this context we still wanted to be sensitive to the variety of ways a woman’s sexuality can manifest. Each woman came to set with a different energy and different boundaries. We worked together on trying to portray this erotic feeling which ultimately slightly changed woman to woman. I feel we delved deep into our instincts, our trust in each other, and made sure we enjoyed ourselves in the process. That felt to us like we were going down the right path, even if others see it differently.”
Leese and Eden also enlisted a wider creative team to bring the project to life – including stylist Georgia Pendlebury and make-up artist Ana Takahashi – who collaboratively thought of ways to riff on the pin-up tropes of vintage erotic calendars while creating something that feels modern, alive and new. “I think the styling, which Georgia Pendlebury did such an amazing job on, lent a real intimacy to the project that you wouldn’t get from a traditional erotic calendar,” says Eden. “The clothing was all archive and second hand, and I loved the worn-in feeling that gave. It felt very real. With the beauty, we kept things simple throughout and avoided glossy red lips and big blow dries.”
Printed in a limited run of just 350 copies – the last batch of which are released today – the calendar’s beautifully atypical format also marks a point of difference. Designed by Jonny Lu, loose pages can be organised and reshuffled, hung on the wall, pulled out as posters or flicked through like a book. “I particularly love the moon emblems that Johnny incorporated into the design,” says Eden. “I am in love with the idea that women can be more in touch with the stages of the moon, more aware of where she’s at in her cycle, as well as what they have to do that day. I think it feels like a precious object, but not too precious it can’t be played with.”
“I hope that it’s something people want to treasure for a long time after the Year of the Dragon 2024,” adds Leese. “At its heart, the project was made for women, but I also really love the idea that it's for anyone who wants to enjoy it. I don’t believe art should be exclusive – if it inspires you, it’s for you.”
The final 50 copies of The Year of the Dragon Calendar 2024 are available at Climax Books, Waste Store, L'Imagerie, Dashwood Books, Ripe Mags, Village Books, and SO books Japan.