The History Behind the Iconic Illustrated ‘Nagel Women’

Video essayist and web producer Evan Puschak of The Nerdwriter took a detailed look at the work of artist Patrick Nagel and his iconic “Nagel Women”. Nagel, who first created this art deco-inspired illustrated style for Playboy in 1975, kept evolving it over time into a distinctive look that lent itself to becoming the art of choice for cover art, record albums, and hair and nail salons.

These are the Nagel Women, paintings made by American artist Patrick Nagel that became icons in and of the 1980s. Nagel women usually have sleek black hair paper white skin bold red lipstick and a look of mystery power and cool. ..they quickly got the attention of the art world. Meanwhile the manager of the English New Wave band Duran Duran saw Nagel’s work in Playboy and commissioned a picture for the cover of their 1982 album “Rio”.

Nagel intended for the portraits to be as minimalist as possible while still retaining the integrity of the image.

Like Warhol and Liechtenstein before him Nagel bridged the gap between art and commerce, highbrow and lowbrow … he elevated the popular medium of posters while retaining their accessibility, their immediacy. His project was simplification. Day by day, little by little, Nagel removed details until he arrived at the fewest number of lines that would still capture the spirit of his models.

Nagel Woman

Nagel Woman
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Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails. Lori can be found posting on Threads and sharing photos on Instagram.