Milton Glaser once said, “a designer goes through three acts.” He may or may not have forgotten about Stefan Sagmeister, who has logged many more than three—in fact, counting his advertising, graphic design, filmmaking, artmaking, exhibition design, housewares and now clothing endeavors, he is beyond three. There are some I’m doubtless missing … and it ain’t over yet.
This week is the launch of Sagmeister 1 2 3. Inspired by Stefan’s long-term “thinking project” Beautiful Numbers, he has designed wearables that optimistically “serve as a reminder that the latest Tweets and cable news don’t mean we’re standing at the edge of doom.” This line of clothes is based on his recent Beautiful Numbers art exhibit that philosophically suggests that despite evidence to the contrary, the world is not out of control.
The products are long-term data visualizations on items “carefully made in New York City.” The Sagmeister 1 2 3 line includes two shirts, a pair of trousers, a sweater, a jacket and a coat. The company’s motto is classic Sagmeister: “We don’t follow seasons. We might be the laziest fashion company on the planet.” I asked Sagmeister to pitch the thinking behind his new act.
Can you explain this concept?
We’ve been creating projects connected to long-term thinking for a long while now, because so many of my friends think that we are living in the worst of times. But if you look at many human developments over the long term, say 100 or 200 years, many things developed well. We live over two-and-a-half times as long, worldwide extreme poverty was reduced from 90% to 10% (it was down to 9% before the pandemic), and for the first time in human history more than half of the world population lives in a democratic system.
This does not mean that all is well. But I do believe we have a better chance to change things from a platform acknowledging past successes rather than from the edge of doom.
What is the meaning behind the graphic elements?
The Pedestrian Sweater talks about how traffic accidents were reduced over the past 80 years (the large shape in the front represents the 11 Americans who died annually in 1935 per 100,000 people, the small shape in the back shows the two people who died in 2015).
The Life Shirt (with the two large shapes) compares the life expectancy from 1800—29 years—to the life expectancy from 2020: 71 years. Since most of us [would] rather [be] alive than dead, being alive two-and-half-times as long is an advantage.
The Progress Shirt shows that having a child used to be as dangerous for a woman 100 years ago as having breast cancer is today.
Koala? Why is this your patron saint?
The koala is the laziest animal in the jungle, lazier than the sloth even.
We won’t do seasons. I just advised an Austrian fashion company—they design 1,000 pieces per year.
Who else is involved in Sagmeister 1 2 3?
My very good friend [fashion designer] Anni Kuan is producing the clothes, and my partner Karolina Ciecholewska is creating the site and is responsible for social media.
You have been branching out quite a lot in the past few years. Do you plan on adding more and different items to the Sagmeister line?
Right now we are also designing the tunnels connecting the five main hospitals in Toronto, a bike path in Arkansas, and I’m preparing exhibits in Mexico City, Tokyo and Kyoto. Things are busy and I like doing it all.