The perils of getting naked with Sagmeister

When Sagmeister Inc chose to announce that it had become Sagmeister & Walsh, it must have seemed like a fun and appropriate idea to update the studio’s original naked mailer with a new nude shot featuring both partners. But will it have as positive an effect on the career of Jessica Walsh as it did on that of the studio’s founder?

When Sagmeister Inc chose to announce that it had become Sagmeister & Walsh, it must have seemed like a fun and appropriate idea to update the studio’s original naked mailer with a new nude shot featuring both partners together. But will the decision have as positive an effect on the career of Jessica Walsh as it did on that of the studio’s founder?

Stefan Sagmeister has always understood the power of getting naked. He first made his mark with a poster for the Hong Kong chapter of the 4As advertising organisation featuring four bare backsides (shown above, 1992). It was a funny, clever, daring idea which generated both attention and controversy – values that have propelled Sagmeister’s career ever since.


Witness also the 1999 poster for an AIGA lecture in Cranbrook for which Sagmeister had the event’s details carved into his naked torso. Or his Sagmeister On A Binge poster for a show in Japan featuring the before and after effects of junk food on the designer’s body.

When Stefan Sagmeister wanted to announce that he was setting up his own studio in New York in 1994 he sent out a card featuring himself naked. Despite fears that it would lose him the only client he had at the time, the mailer had the opposite effect.


Now Sagmeister has made a major change in his business (reported here), with Jessica Walsh joining as a partner and the studio being renamed Sagmeister & Walsh. Time, then, to re-do that card, perhaps.

Sagmeister says he was “sheepish” about the idea of having both partners naked and initially suggested that Walsh could provide a contrast by being dressed ultra conservatively. Walsh, though, was having none of it: “Why should I be the conservative one?” she argued.



The result is an announcement in which both partners appear stark naked, save for, on Sagmeister’s part, the addition of a pair of black socks, as in the original. It’s a way of saying ‘we’re equal partners here’ (Walsh is even posed on top of a pile of books to equalise their heights), both the same. Except they are not.

As a society, we view an image of a naked middle-aged man very differently to the way in which we react to a naked young woman. Logic dictates that we shouldn’t, but we do.

A 50 year-old Sagmeister in his black socks is humorous and self-deprecatory as well as honest, open and daring. The original card suggested that here was a risk-taker who knew what it took to get himself, and by extension his clients, talked about. Will Walsh be judged as generously?


Levi’s billboard by Sagmeister Inc. Design: Jessica Walsh

My first reaction on seeing the card was one informed less by my position as editor of CR and more by the fact that I’m a parent. It was: Does she know what she’s getting herself into here? Sagmeister’s original card went to a fairly exclusive audience: this new version has been distributed to millions worldwide. Speaking to Walsh yesterday, she admitted to being nervous about reaction to the card and seemed well aware that some may draw unintended implications from it. I hope she hasn’t read the comments over at the design forum site QBN, as some of them will no doubt confirm her worst fears. Misogyny and jealousy are an ugly combination.


EDP identity: art direction by Jessica Walsh

Sagmeister has used his body, literally, to advance his career. He has used nakedness as a way of conveying a promise of daring, wit, bravery and commitment. It is to be hoped that those same qualities now attach themselves to Walsh but the risk is that her talent as a designer becomes overshadowed by this image and the attendant innuendo it has provoked. It is unjust and it is unreasonable but women are judged by different criteria to men and the tactics employed so successfully by Sagmeister may not work so well for Walsh.

Surely, the big news here is not that Jessica Walsh is naked but that, at age 25, she has been made a partner of one of the most famous and highly regarded design studios in the world. That is a fantastic achievement. In her dotage, will she look back with fondness at a moment of youthful daring that visually expressed the fact that she had become the equal of one of the best designers in the business or, in her nakedness, is her most remarkable feature in danger of being obscured?




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  • I Agree the big news is that she has made partner. `Is she 24?

  • PatrickBurgoyne

    @ James
    Sagmeister told me 24 but it looks like she was born in 86 so probably 25, will check

  • Felipe Luchi

    “My first reaction on seeing the card was one informed less by my position as editor of CR and more by the fact that I’m a parent.” So every time a young woman does something stupid or risky the parental area of your brain gets in alert. Such a nice gentleman.

  • It is true that Walsh will face some stupid comments, but it’s a pity that you didn’t try to address why a successful woman is faced with these misogynous comments in an industry that would, I imagine, claim to be modern and open in the way it regards sexuality. She may be young, but I imagine Walsh will be very aware of sexism in the industry — she will have faced it at previous points without doubt — and has decided she can deal with that, perhaps even sees this as a way of confronting/uncovering it. If there is a problem here, it is not with Walsh’s decision to be photographed naked, but with those whose reactions are misogynous.

  • becky

    I’m so disappointed that this woman’s achievement has been overlooked because she has “decided to get naked”

    The idea makes sense but isn’t genius so maybe it’s not worth it?

    We’re designer not artists right?

    Maybe I’m just annoyed because she has no pubic hair?

  • gregorylent

    the writer is ageist, ok, but don’t assume everyone is .. never saw age, just bodies .. like it

  • MissyC

    Is “misogynism” a word?

  • PatrickBurgoyne

    @ Missy C
    You’re right, misogyny

    @ Chris Swithinbank
    “If there is a problem here, it is not with Walsh’s decision to be photographed naked, but with those whose reactions are misogynous.” Exactly, that’s what I’m trying to point out – reactions that Sagmeister did not have to deal with. The decision to go naked has different implications for her than it did for him. As for dealing with why sexism exists in the design industry (and, by extension, in society at large) that would take a whole shelf of books, if not a library, not a simple blog post!

  • Maude

    As a feminist, It’s a shame people will judge Walsh differently, but they do. I hate to say this but it makes me wonder how talented Walsh is, if she doesn’t realize how objectified she would be. Why on earth would you do this if the idea is to further your career? Maybe she is trying to start a conversation–but I agree with Becky, the idea isn’t genius so it is not worth it. Ugh. Guys are just ogling over this–in my office they certainly did. And women are annoyed b/c she’s attractive. Also other questions come to mind. are they having an office romance? What if she wasn’t attractive? it would be even worse for her career. And I should feel like Sagmeister is taking advantage of her, but I don’t, which make me disgusted with myself.

  • Ross Pichler

    Her body position and language suggests she isn’t 100 percent comfortable doing this, so why do it?

  • Emma Finamore

    I don’t think it’s particularly groundbreaking because she fits completely into the ‘Hollywood beauty ideal’ – ie long nice hair, skinny but with breasts, little / no pubic hair, tiny frame etc etc.

    It would be more interesting and more of a feminist stance if she didnt fit exactly the image that all straight men find attractive and most women want to look like!

  • sid

    i think the overwhelming feeling is… Not Cool!

    …25 you say :)

  • Give me a break – She went naked. WHO CARES? She’s a brilliant designer, and should be rewarded as such, by the partnership she obviously deserves. This article is complete BS, that you’d NEVER write if she were a he.

    I applaud her for taking the risk – This ISN’T some idiot Freshman at UCLA showing her Boobs at a Spring Break Drunk-a-Thon – This was well thought out, designed to shock and make people look, which it obviously did. Good on both of them for doing it. It doesn’t affect the quality of her work, we’re all talking about her, and more importantly, all looking at what other campaigns and designs she’s helmed.

    Bravo to both of them – And congratulations to Jessica for the partnership, and for having the balls (pun intended) to announce it in an unconventional way. Well done.

  • ProudMary

    I am sure Jessica knew the consequences of doing this. Its a pity that she will be judged differently to him, but that is the way we as a society operate at the moment. I think this is her way of saying ‘F*** the begrudgers – stand up & be counted.’ That includes the jealous feminists as well as the oogling men.
    Lets not forget this is the exact same reaction that Stefan got 19 years ago with the first shoot…and look where he is now.

  • Derek

    Very cheeky and courageous – what you’d expect from someone like Sagmeister (or now Sagmeister & Walsh). Will be talked about for many years to come. I wonder if it will start a new trend for new partnerships. Pentagram?

  • monkeyshine

    I guess time will tell. Hopefully her work and personality stands up and matches the bold gesture of this campaign. I can’t get past the feeling that it’s just creepy but maybe that’s my warped American perspective getting in the way. One thing that does keep surfacing in my mind is that she can stand on a pile of books to try to show us that she is an equal but the very fact that she is subscribing to an idea that is very much Sagmeister’s tells me otherwise. I’d be more impressed if they’d taken the original concept and spun it in such a way that revealed more of who she is and what she brings to the agency.

  • XS

    I have to respectfully disagree with ProudMary’s assertion that the reception Walsh is getting for this picture is the same as Sagmeister. Sagmeister does not have a conventionally sexy body. Walsh does. Because we have an idea of what “conventionally sexy” is, we perceive their images differently. No one ever confused Sagmeister for a fashion model.

    Jim Gaffigan and Jon Kortajarena could pose nude in an ad campaign. Assuming everything else (save for the models) were the same, they would be received two different ways. We would have a chuckle at Gaffigan and commend him for his risk-taking. We would ogle at Kortajarena.

    Walsh is perceived differently than Sagmeister because of her age, beauty, and meteoric rise. If some handsome, 25-year-old male designer was named partner with a much older, experienced female designer, and they posed nude, we would be asking the same questions.

  • Joe

    It would be interesting to see what was written at the time about “Does It Make Sense?” April Greiman’s Design Quarterly #133 poster when she did a full frontal nude of herself in a design, 26 years ago.

    Image of DQ #133 here:

    This was not only a nude but also, gasp, done on a computer. Shocking, to some.

  • JL

    This is neither courageous nor bold nor fresh, and while jealousy & misogyny do factor in for some, I also don’t think they are the problem here.

    This was bold when Stefan did it 19 years ago, but multiple rehashes, books, awards, and endless self-references later it is something very different.
    Sagmeister’s cult of personality – like him or not – has factored very heavily into design discourse and education for years now. I’m a few years older than Jessica and can’t overstate how ubiquitous he was for me & my peers coming up, and his presence has not waned a bit. He casts a huge shadow, and for someone who is supposed to be a master of perceptions, he needed to be a lot more careful with how this move would be perceived.

    Jessica’s talent and her achievements in her short career are simply incredible, but she and (moreover) Stefan needed to realize that he has already long risked overusing this trope and coming off as an egomaniac. That history combines with his age, appearance, and status to create an image that struggles badly to convey partnership or equality with the beautiful naked woman half his age. He comes off terribly smug, and she sadly comes off looking like his harem.

    And before screaming sexism — imagine if it were Paula Scher standing with a ripped, hung young hunk. His design talents and her leadership, brilliant as they may be – would take a backseat just the same.

  • Pedro

    This is all a bit heavy… and highly pretentious.
    My own thought process went something like this:

    She’s quite tasty…Who’s that? *Compare penis size with Sags* hmmm bout the same give or take a foreskin… Ah so this hot lady, she’s become partner? Are they screwing each other? They must be screwing each other! *Google image search: Jessica Walsh* – wow, she’s actually very pretty, prettier than I first realized! *Check Jessica’s site*… Nice work! – Maybe she isn’t screwing him, maybe she actually became partner on the merit of her work, bit jealous about that! On second thoughts good for her! Hot and talented… Damn!

  • HR

    I agree with JL. Also, I think it’s relation to his earlier stunt weakens the concept, especially after hearing how he wasn’t too sure about it. Yeah, they may get the attention they wanted, but it’s a lazy idea.


    Get over it. She’s an adult and she’s obviously intelligent. Look at all she has accomplished. She knows what she’s doing. Controversy sells.

  • Wheels

    Shes 25. Fuck me. Well done.
    Am I the only one who thinks getting nude isn’t that big a deal, is it that courageous and amazing… really, in 2012. The best most courageous, bold and incredible way to promote yourself is by getting naked???
    I thought nudity was old hat.

  • Elaine

    “My first reaction on seeing the card was one informed less by my position as editor of CR and more by the fact that I’m a parent.”

    Considering that Jessica is literally half of Sagmeister’s age, and young enough to be his daughter, I don’t question your reaction at all.

    I have terribly mixed feelings. She’s a super-talented creative who deserves all the success in the world; a woman that other young female designers can look up to. On the other hand, I think she’s done herself a disservice by doing this. Whatever your noble intentions, juxtaposing an older rumpled-looking man with a young, lithe naked woman will guarantee the most basest of reactions. I think they both should have known better.

  • ER

    Congrats to Jessica for her achievements. That’s all that needs to be said.

  • Alistair

    I agree with Elaine entirely. I respect the work and have always admired the personality but am now finding the whole arrangement questionalble.

    On a very basic level, I can’t help but assume that the motivation to make jessica partner was a personal one rather than a professional one. For me, a partner should bring tangible assets to the table-namely money or clients. I personally don’t agree that talent is enough to merit partnership. Jessica’s accomplishments aside, you can always hire new talent and I don’t believe that she’s bringing in clients Stefan couldn’t attracting himself.

    I find it admirable that Stephan put himself on the chopping block 20 years ago, but I think it now looks a bit like ritual sacrifice-even her posture looks childish and uncertain. Whether its judged as cliche or immoral we’ll see how this announcement effects their respective careers. Or maybe it’s all just about happiness.

  • Bip


  • razor

    I’m swimming against the tide here but fuck it . . .

    I couldn’t give a monkeys about this PR stunt or Sagmeister’s work. I’m not a fan. I feel his work is generally overrated.

    Any person at the age of 25 (or at whatever age for that matter), talented or not, at that level of a business is always on a sharp learning curve. I wish them all the very best and I sincerely hope that she has every level of support to meet the demands and expectations that his/her adoring public and paying clients expect.

  • Sebastian Groebner

    I think it’s really funny idea. And yes, I think it’s funny ESPECIALLY because of the relation
    to the original one Sagmeister did for the first studio opening. It got them all the attention and talk
    they needed. Good luck and best wishes for the new company!!!


  • I had the opportunity to see Mr. Sagmesiter two days ago, he was one of the speakers at Sofia Design Week 2012. A lot of questions were posed to him after his lecture and I was waiting my time to be able to ask him about the photo, because I’ve read all the comments here and there already.

    His answer was actually very short and straight to the point: “There is no controversy, we just made a joke of a joke (referring to his first promo naked shot). That’s it”.

  • Peter

    I’m not sure just how controversial this all is. It’s two people naked, that’s all. Essentially it’s just advertising, and in the ad world, sex sells, right?

    The interesting point is, in my opinion, the message that Sagmeister is sending out to the design community. I think this is his way of saying ‘I’m such a big* deal that I can get a hot 24 year old female designer to work with me, make her partner, get her to strip naked and pose alongside me as we announce it to the world. And not only will she agree, but I can also keep my socks on.’

    *Pun not intended.

  • MG

    I’m really glad we’re having this conversation.

  • Shame that the way they’ve gone about it is overshadowing the fact a 24yr old has just become a partner with Saggy.. incredible achievement for someone so young – huge congratulations to her!

  • Boring…I think I picked the wrong subject at University. I’m off to work in the movie industry.

  • This feeds even further into the dilemma of design celebrity… I suppose we should give the people what they want. Time to establish a Creative Review gossip column?

  • Take a closer look

  • CR always deletes my comments. Come on!

    (don’t delete this one)

  • I am 25 this year.

    I am neither as talented, as successful or as attractive at Jessica.

    I need to up my game.

  • A clever PR stunt with the intention of getting people talking about their business… hey presto!

    I like it.

  • Exactly David, like it or hate it, it works!!!

    Love the ‘Style=Farts’ as well!

  • Hilary

    There is nothing courageous about being 25, gorgeous and thin and getting naked. God, if I looked like that I’d be naked as often as I possibly could. It would have been courageous if she was 40, was a size 14 and looked like your average schmoo.

    That being said, I am torn. It certainly gets your attention and creates “buzz”. I’ve never commented on a website before and yet I felt compelled to do so. But perhaps it is true that it just creates buzz with old fuddy-duddy’s. Does anyone under 30 actually care? Meh, but then that’s probably not the audience for this piece anyway.

    What do I know.

  • I’m double Jessica’s age, probably double her weight as well, and only half as talented. That said, this took a lot more than just courage. When I’m not doing design, I’m photographing naked people — I shoot for myself, for a pay site, and just because I think the naked human form is a work of art, no matter what the size or age of the person being photographed. People giggle when they’re naked, unless they’re professional nude models. And they move in strange ways, stand rather awkwardly, and don’t know where to put their hands (no pockets). I see none of that in her pose or in her face. This was planned, practiced, and is extremely professional. Plus she took the time to deal with certain beauty issues that most folks who have never posed nude might not think about (i.e. shaving). And those who say they’d be naked as often as possible if they looked like her are missing the whole point…this isn’t being done in private, it’s being shown to the world. Of all the folks I’ve photographed, I know TWO who would be totally happy to show their naked bodies to the world 24/7…all the rest may want *some* fame and recognition, but getting this type of visibility would scare them. Has nothing to do with being beautiful, because I know many beautiful young ladies who would never pose nude, especially not in our modern anti-fem tea-party-filled USA. She’s taking a stand — which is a lot more than most designers do (me included). Whether you think this is a rehash of Sag’s older marketing or not doesn’t matter half as much as what it says about her confidence.

  • P Hambly

    Yeeeah… er, isn’t this what most people would term ‘a publicity stunt’?
    It’s not new; it’s not even particularly clever; and it’s certainly not news.

    Oh, guess who hasn’t renewed his CR subscription.

  • Leo Saunders

    I’m really looking forward to the work that comes out of this partnership.
    I have a lot of respect and admiration for the work of both Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh.
    With Stefan’s work I love the ideas and with Jessica’s I love the visuals.
    Good for Jessica for becoming a partner and for taking equal standing in this launch material.

    It’s great to see that something so simple provokes debate and questions our view on things. Good for them!

  • She doesn’t have the figure I expected a ‘heavy weight’ designer to have…

  • Brent

    [deleted by moderator]

    If she was willing to turn up hairy, without makeup and the hair-do and strike a very unattractive position then it could be considered a statement.

    This just dumbs down the original statement Sagmeister made by showing himself completely as a regular guy with imprefections ‘warts and all’ whereas she could just as son be a model, hence it is reduced to the level of a highstreet fashion ad.

    [deleted by moderator]

    Her work is very good and ‘of the moment’ but she is definitely not a pioneer in any sense unlike Sagmeister.

  • LukeO

    Some views have a Victorian-esque attitude about the body—that it’s something to be ashamed of, to hide, to cover, to mock those who choose to show… I just see the body as it is, I have no problem with anyone making an expression with it… the Sagmeister/Walsh shot is self-referencing, quirky, whatever, no it’s not groundbreaking but it’s valid and clearly means a lot to themselves and new partnership.

  • Supastarbruce

    She’s hot! He’s hot! They fact that they’re both naked & both design gods is brilliant! Why sexualise nakedness? We ALL get naked in the shower… I like looking at them both & life would be great if we could see more people naked… I reckon depression statistics amongst men would even drop!

  • Cheesy

    The following is without prejudice, jealousy, envy or misogyny.

    1: WTF WOW is she free and single? :-)

    2: I don’t know what they are selling. :-)

    3: So shes a partner at 25 to an older man of 50?

    4: Are they getting married?

    5: What total rubbish this is just nudism. So what, it’s 2012 it is not fresh now. It was slightly fresh then in 1992 when she was born (OK 1987).
    Might as well have done a soft or hard core porno photo shoot (depends on the mood) by Terry Richardson for the advert, that would have been slightly better but just as awful at the same time.

    6: Whoopeedoo! Nice frame 😉

    7: In this internet age when men & women are naked most of the time, depends on the internet you find yourself attracted too, this is a stale as a bag of out a date crusty loafs.

  • I think using this image for their mailer is effective on a number of levels. Firstly it polarises people and opens up debate. It encourage conversation about the inherent sexism in the design/advertising industry (which is just a reflection of society as a whole). You only have to read some of the posts above regarding Jessica’s body image. It’s clearly apparent more needs to be done in educating the industry about what sexism is. As others have mentioned, Jessica would be well aware of the barriers women face in the workforce. She would also be aware that she will be judged by certain people for her decision. But it’s those that don’t judge her that is important. There are those that identify with what she is doing and respect her decision. This can only work in her favour. Thanks to this mailer, Jessica will draw alliances and attract ventures with people that have similar beliefs to herself. It’s certainly ‘exposed’ me to her creative work and I’ll be watching her new partnership with interest.

  • I think Jessica looks great, and slightly awkward, which makes her look great, because she’s young and eats lots of avocados (apparently). I like the tension in her folded arms and the three-quarter view of her right leg and the right foot clinging to the left foot for comfort and/or support. I like her plinth of design publications (the familiar cyan and cream spine of Die Gestalten Verlag’s Type One is a particular favourite of mine). It’s hardly the Arnolfini Marriage but there is symbolism here and she seems to be saying: “I’ve done my homework, I know the score. I’m sort of balancing on the top of all this, but I’m not about to fall, I’ve got a good sense of balance.”

    So, what exactly are the perils of getting naked with Sagmeister? A few crappy jokes on QBN? Really?

    The question should be (and even some of the posts on QBN get this): what are the perils of getting naked with Jessica Walsh? This is Sagmeister pushing through on an unbroken arc, exposing himself more than ever. She looks straight at us, Sagmeister looks slightly off (at a mirror? a camera preview?). Is he nervous? His body versus junk food, his body versus Swann-Morton, his body versus Jessica Walsh – his body is altered each time. In his original card the implication of the censoring black line is that his penis has grown monstrously large now that he has his own company, not so here; no more pissing contests, no transformation, just a different context – he is old and cold (the socks speak volumes).

    The image does two things: it inducts Walsh’s scalpel-sharp portfolio into a new relationship and it confirms Sagmeister’s unflinching commitment to his pretty much unique vision. Well, unique to an extent, his saggy but also spiky Austrian body reminds me of Egon Schiele, another self-serving, publicity-hungry egotist who just happened to produce epoch-defining visual art.

  • Jennie

    Whatever our opinion on the matter……

    Its worked hasn’t it?

    We know all know who she is, and its got the whole design industry and media talking….
    which was surely the whole point of this stunt.

  • saagsschaft

    The nakedness doesn’t bother me, nor the fact that she was promoted to Partner at the age of 24.
    What I find suspicious is the following quote from Sagmeister :

    “In the two and a half years she has been here Jessica has really shown she can do the entire thing – from ideas to execution to being responsible for the studio. [Making her a partner] just seemed the right thing to do. She’s only 24 but she is an exceptional person.”

    I can’t believe more people aren’t outraged at the little amount of time she has worked at his studio. Seriously? 2.5 years of working there and she proved to him that she is capable of running his studio? I don’t care how talented you are, if you are not bringing in clients there is no reason for you to be promoted to Partner. I don’t know if she was bringing in client work to his studio, but if she was or is bringing in clients, then why not go off on her own and establish her personal studio?

  • Conservatively dressed vs naked would have said: “Stale”
    This is a very elegant way of saying: “New Blood!”

    Damn, she is very attractive.

  • Steve

    Is there a more self obessed industry than graphic design? Imagine your bank manager showing you old clips of him surfing (david carson) or your local builder sending you a mail shot of him and his mate naked.

  • Gavin

    So many people getting their semiotics in a twist.

    Good luck to the new partnership.

  • Leandro

    It makes perfect sense that she gets naked too. What is the big deal?

    This stupid discussion just shows how sexist this world still is.

  • The new cards made logical sense and it will be interesting if this is now a prerequisite for any future Sagmeister partner. This is also a clever move as the fact it has caused so much debate is the cheapest and most effective exposure you could ask for. Unfortunately, although society has progressed, it is true that no one would have said much if the new partner had been a male, except perhaps comments on who was more physically blessed.

  • I agree with Leandro above. Why do people care so much that she’s naked? She looks great – the visual contrast between Sagmeister and herself is refreshing. It riffs off the original postcard, so it’s a valid concept.

    I think she’s an amazing talent and I can’t wait to see more work from them.

  • Kiki

    I think this dude just likes gittin’ naked

  • Johnny Darko

    I don’t know who either of these 2 people are and after reading I don’t see much of a contribution to the world more than another hipster at a bike party. But then again people’s careers arent such a big deal when you live outside the NYC bubble. I know plenty of successful best coasters who live their lives instead of simply documenting them and then riding off the success of their self marketing.

  • Collin

    Getting naked is clever marketing. It’s also pretty funny, I might add. I think both of these designers are awesome. However, they are taking the sacredness of the naked body and making it public and no longer private. Doesn’t matter how good either of them looks or doesn’t look naked, it’s still not a good choice to take what would be best kept private and make it into something public. I mean, it’s just sort of obvious, ya know? Basic decency. I hope people don’t become so open-minded that their brains fall out, even if they are artists lol.