Looking Glass: Designer Stefan Sagmeister

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By Jenny Shears

Never one to fall in step with the heavy beat of always au-courant modernism, graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister especially relished his recent opportunity to play havoc with the work of one of it’s earliest proponents. 

Remarking on his redux of the renowned bar set No. 248 by Adolf Loos, Sagmeister remarks, “Having been bored to tears by decades of reheated modernism it was with special delight to be involved in a project that painted ornamental images on objects designed by one of the fathers of modernism and the author of ‘Ornament and Crime.’ And, with his permission, no less.” 

The Austrian-based producer, Lobmeyr, called on Austrian-born (but NYC-based for his professional career), Sagmeister and his associate Jessica Walsh to carry out the project, commemorating the 80th anniversary of the set. 

Sagmeister’s never been one to deliver the expected – even after a few decades and accolades, he still retains the spirit of punk design renegade rather than establishment as proved in his recent announcement of taking on a partner at Sagmeister Inc., (now Sagmeister and Walsh) – But with 248, Sagmeister followed the brief almost to the letter – one that was from Loos himself. 

In May 1931 Loos sent a missive to Lobmeyr explicitly requesting that they eventually replace his strict geometric forms with, “butterflies, small animals and the nude human form.” Sagmeister and Walsh carried it out almost to the letter in their ‘Sagmeister on Loos’ collection, placing illustrations of the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Heavenly Virtues where Loos’s sober lines originally stood. 

Why Loos, an early and vocal detractor of decoration in design would make the request is a bit of a mystery. Maybe for all his belief in the saving graces of modernism, he also realized that at a certain point, the world might be ready for a bit of spirited design refreshment? 

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