Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Nagel Ladies

If you were alive in the 1980's, you must have known of Patrick Nagel. Even if you didn't know his name, you almost certainly knew his work. The stylish Nagel Ladies became pop culture icons in that decade and can still be seen displayed on the windows of salons across America.

Patrick Nagel's technique was somewhat systematic. He began with an art-deco themed image, then removed elements which he felt were unnecessary. The result was typically a highly stylized, linear, dark-haired female figure, often dressed in various shades of purple and blue. His images were heavily influenced by Japanese woodblock prints. Probably the most popular Nagel image was the one which graced the cover of the Duran Duran album Rio. The look of the Nagel Ladies was always savvy and seductive.

What is not widely known or remembered about Patrick Nagel is what happened to him. As it turns out, Nagel was found dead in his car of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 39, immediately after participating in a 15-minute aerobic event to raise funds for the American Heart Association. To say he was in his prime would be an understatement. His images were everywhere at that time.

Whenever I see a Nagel print, whether it is on a magazine cover, in a gallery exhibit, or on the window of a salon, I am immediately transported back to the 1980's. In that stellar era of The Me Generation, Big Hair, Ronald Reagan, and Valley Girls, the Nagel Ladies were a breed apart. They represented a certain polish and sophistication which began to emerge in the 1980's after two decades of letting our collective hair down.

So the next time you head in for a manicure at the nail salon, take a look at the prints on the window and give a quick wink in the direction of Patrick Nagel. He put a little pizazz in our lives when we needed it.