With His First Clothing Line, Stefan Sagmeister Visualizes Positive Global Trends
Stefan Sagmeister is a contemporary polymath. Following his curiosity through many forms, the Austrian-born, New York–based graphic designer has produced striking objects, installations, and participatory artworks throughout his decades-long career. (Sagmeister speaks about some of these projects and others on Ep. 8 of our Time Sensitive podcast, and on Ep.106 of our At a Distance podcast.) While his output, at first glance, might appear to move wildly between subjects, a closer look reveals a consistent interest in visualizing data in inventive and engaging ways.
This impulse lies at the heart of “Beautiful Numbers,” a project Sagmeister conceived in 2020, when headlines presented a picture of a planet seemingly in the midst of disaster. “My desire is to place a reminder in people’s everyday lives that the current terrible news is not necessarily a sign that the world is ending,” Sagmeister said in a statement. “If you consider human development from a long-term perspective, many things look very positive.” He applied this view to a series of artworks—made by gathering data from the last 100 years that illustrates global progress, such as a reduction in wars and increased life expectancy, and translating it into vibrant visualizations—and presented them at Manhattan’s Thomas Erben gallery last spring. Each piece demonstrates that, over time, certain difficulties of today are mere blips in overall positive trends.
Now, Sagmeister is extending the “Beautiful Numbers” concept to his first clothing line, Sagmeister 123, which launches today. Composed of just seven pieces for men and women, created by Sagmeister with producer Anni Kuan and designer Karolina Ciecholewska, the collection embeds data reflecting encouraging historical trends into meticulously crafted, New York City–made garments. There’s the Lightning Jacket, a loose-fitting, water-repellent bomber printed with a graphic that compares the number of Americans, per million, killed by lighting strikes in 1915 (50) to 2015 (1). The Progress Shirt, which features French seams and 99 embroidered dots, demonstrates a reduction in childbirth mortality rates from a century ago to today in the United States. The Opinion Coat, meanwhile, visualizes the shift in the percentage of Americans who believe that women should return to more traditional roles in society: In 1990, almost half of Americans agreed with the statement; in 2010, only a quarter did.
The project’s philosophy also extends to the line’s materials and construction. “We want our garments to exist for years and years,” Sagmeister says. “They are about long-term thinking—and they are also about long-term lasting.” With that endurance in mind, the collection was crafted using a range of high-quality materials, including Italian Merino wool and Egyptian cotton, which was gathered and processed by hand in a five-stage procedure to avoid the chemicals used in mechanical harvesting.
Asked why he wanted to expand his purview to clothes, Sagmeister described garments as an ideal platform for broadcasting a message. “I’ve always had great respect for the design of clothing, as it’s so close to the body,” he says. “Clothing is among the most immediate, personal, and intimate of media.”