The gala was held in the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Centre in New York on Friday night.

“I’ve always tried to do projects that present positive narratives for people who are under-represented, like me, and the calendar really managed this,” she said.

“Alice in Wonderland speaks of possibilities, and this interpretation said that Alice could be anybody, and for under-represented people, possibilities and dreams are important because when you are under-represented you face the danger of conforming to stereotypes because that is all you see. This calendar says: ‘No, it doesn’t have to be that way.’”

This elicited loud applause from the audience that included her co-stars, Naomi Campbell, Sean “Diddy” Combs and the British photographer, Tim Walker, who masterminded the project over an elaborate four-day shoot in London in May.

READ MORE: Thando Hopa in 2018 Pirelli calendar

The evening’s events also included the showing of the making of the calendar video, a magical behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the 2018 calendar and how Walker brought his vision to life.

The calendar, which includes four photographs of Hopa as the “Princess of Hearts”, closes with her words.

According to Hopa’s publicist Melinda Shaw, Walker was so moved by her message of inclusion and representation that he asked her to write the final words, which were printed on the last page of the lushly rich, large-format calendar.

It reads: “I recently watched an old home movie where we were dancing and laughing together as a family. Out in the world, I was always uncertain how people would react to me, but that video captured belonging, oneness and love – who we were at that moment. In the telling of the first black Alice in Wonderland, Pirelli Calendar 2018 consolidates and captures so many representations of ‘black’ into one magical narrative. It captures people working together to weave a bigger tale than the girl who tumbled down a rabbit hole. Together, our story says there’s no image monopoly in imagination or dreams; everyone deserves to be represented outside the stereotypes that limit our possibilities. When people flip through the Pirelli archives in future, I hope they see us for who we were and what we represented in this moment of our lives.”

READ MORE: Thando Hopa new face of Audi Q2

Hopa was part of an all-black cast in this 45th edition of the calendar. “It is a proud moment indeed for Thando, as first black South African ever to feature in this legendary annual project, especially in this landmark edition that tells a classic story to a new generation in such an empowering way,” says Shaw.

The cast included models and icons from the entertainment world. from Whoopi Goldberg to Ru Paul, but also political activists. Alice herself is portrayed by Duckie Thot, the Australian-raised model from a family of Sudanese war refugees.

Check out the behind the scenes video below: