Stefan Sagmeister/Mrs Eaves-like Cover For Esquire

Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Bar Refaeli wears merely some body paint on the July 2009 cover of Esquire. Graphic designer James Victore was commissioned to transcribe parts of Stephen King‘s short story Morality on her naked body. Using what may or may not be shoe polish Victore tried to give the lettering some energy, with varying sizes and styles of lettering, even underlining a sentence and leaving a scrawled-out word. The composition was only mapped out to a certain degree. As Victore explains:

I have an exquisite wife, and I practice on her. Also, we worked with three different models. Everyone is different. The flesh is different, the curves are different.

A quite unexpected problem arose for the cover proofreader. Articles editor Ross McCammon, who wrote about Refaeli, was also tasked with checking her for spelling errors:

I had to read her three times because the first read was a wash – I felt disoriented, I wasn’t used to the medium, I was rapt by King’s wordsmithing. So the real work began on the second and third passes. As I scanned each line, reading the words out loud, checking for trouble spots (afterward, not afterwards, for instance), Refaeli slowly – but all too perceptibly – moved her body according to whatever I needed to get a good look at. Which was distracting, but I thank her for it.

Esquire have pretty consistently had covers with typographic backdrops – alter­nating between Christian Schwartz‘s Stag, Hoe­fler & Frere-​Jones’ Mer­cury Dis­play (see also Chris­t­ian Schwartz’s Farn­ham Dis­play) and hand let­ter­ing – for three years now. It is the first time however that the type/lettering is physically on the cover model. The 23-year-old Bar Refaeli says in the mag:

I haven’t seen anything like that ever. So I wanted to be the girl who did it.

Well, I hate to burst her bubble, but design and typography buffs know better.

For starters Stefan Sagmeister did it twice. Once on the classic Lou Reed poster announcing his album Set The Twilight Reeling. As the lyrics to the songs are very personal they tried to express this by writing those lyrics over his face. This design was later plagiarised for the poster for the Jim Carrey movie The Number 23. There’s echoes of Shirin Neshat‘s work in there as well.

Sagmeister even went one step further on the infamous lecture poster for AIGA Detroit. Sagmeister had an intern cut all the type into his skin, in an effort to visualise the pain that seems to accompany most of his design projects.

And then of course more recently we have the dazzling Gemma O’Brien a.k.a. Mrs. Eaves. She used her full body as well, but thankfully stuck to permanent markers for her Write Here, Right Now video that went viral.

So, is this a nice magazine cover? Sure, but remember it has been done before.

:: U P D A T E ::

I have added the Robert Brown­john titles for From Russia with Love Peter refers to in his comment for your viewing pleasure. The type projected on the bellydancer’s body is News Gothic, which was revised and expanded by the Font Bureau as Benton Sans.
Bar Refaeli photographs by James White for Esquire Magazine.

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  1. Thanks Eeves – sorry, Yves – I had read about the Stephen King cover on another blog and couldn’t understand what the fuzz was all about. Remember what Robert Brownjohn did with the titles for From Russia with Love? That was 1963. Ok, not exactly the writing, but it’s only a a very small step from there.

    Posted by peter on Jun. 11, 2009
  2. I know. Everybody’s going mental over this, but it’s hardly revolutionary. Well, it’s always the same – as soon as there’s pretty nekkid girls involved… I only posted this to rank up our hits. ;) :D

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 12, 2009
  3. I have to agree with both of your comments. When I posted the same article here ( 10 days ago, I intended it as somewhat of a satyrical commentary = it is “hot” typography, but certainly not an innovative new concept. Mine was not as clearly stated as your though Yves.

    Posted by Rob Keller on Jun. 12, 2009
  4. Really badly lettered and written, Mrs. Eaves still unsurpassed.

    Posted by Indra on Jun. 12, 2009
  5. Maybe the designer saying he wanted to give the type “some energy” was an euphemism for the fact that it looks like a rush job. :D

    Oh well, I guess he was distracted by the “canvas”.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 12, 2009
  6. While we’re at it, I remebered The Pillow Book, by Peter Greenaway. The trailer:

    Posted by peter on Jun. 12, 2009
  7. Good point, but Peter Greenaway‘s The Pillow Book and the calligraphy of Brody Neuenschwander warrant an entry of their own. I’ll put this one on my list. :)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 13, 2009
  8. This takes more practice:

    Posted by Sjefke on Jun. 16, 2009
  9. Brilliant! :D

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 16, 2009
  10. Posted by gelu on Jun. 17, 2009
  11. the esquire ‘very bold slab’ is Stag by Christian Schwartz as seen here:

    Posted by Simon Robertson on Jun. 19, 2009
  12. Oh, that’s right. I simply copied the info from The Typography of Dexter, Serial Cover Star and forgot to update it. Good call, Simon — I’ll add it to the post.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 19, 2009
  13. The bost boring designer ever! Poster for Lou Reed is excellent, but everything after that is just copy/paste. Just don’t understand why does he get so much space in public. Overrated and for my taste, not talented designer.

    Posted by Ayachuca on Jun. 23, 2009
  14. The most boring designer ever!

    Who do you mean? James Vic­tore? Or Stefan Sag­meis­ter, Gemma O’Brien, or Robert Brown­john?

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 23, 2009
  15. I also recall an Entertainment Weekly cover featuring the Dixie Chicks. Typographically unremarkable, but it does feature words on naked women.

    Posted by fontgoddess on Jun. 23, 2009
  16. Love it. A very lucky man is Stefan. GB™

    Posted by Glen Barry on Jun. 23, 2009
  17. Another for your list:
    Not nearly as involved but at least it’s the same photographer, James White. The May 2, 2003, issue of Entertainment Weekly, featuring the Dixie Chicks.,,446278,00.html

    Posted by Luis Antezana on Jun. 24, 2009
  18. I immediately thought of the pillow book too. sexiness and typography!

    I own the book which has full color pictures of all of the bodies.

    Posted by Melissa J. on Jun. 24, 2009
  19. Any idea who creates Esquire’s wall of type covers like this one Are they sent to an outside graphic designer or do the Esquire design team handle the typography themselves?

    Posted by KDN on Jun. 26, 2009

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