Her Name is Rio: The Women of Patrick Nagel

1982. I wasn’t even a thought, much less alive. Reagan was in office. EPCOT opened. E.T. was released. TIME Magazine’s Man of the Year was the Computer. Duran Duran released their 2x RIAA Platinum album Rio.

While Duran Duran is famous for both their music and their cheeky, sexy videos, the new wave/pop art cover girl of Rio enjoys a smaller but interesting sort of fame.

You have seen her, if not on the cover of Rio, in various versions on the walls or windows of nail and hair salons. In my house we call her the “Duran Duran Lady”. Sometimes she has a short hair cut. Other times she is in (link NSFW) various states of undress. Occasionally, if you walk among burnt out strip malls, you will find various rip-off versions of her abandoned and yellowed or sun bleached, corners curled. Still smiling, brilliantly.

A woman that’s a by-product of the late 70s and early 80s, inspired by the Art Deco (20s) revival (Miami and “Miami Vice” aesthetic among other 80s gifts), has largely remained part of an homage to strip mall, beauty parlor culture. However, she has been making a bit of a comeback with the resurgence of new wave in other wave forms (vapor wave and so on and so forth) as well as “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City“, “Moonbeam City“, and other forms of entertainment.




The artist who created her is Patrick Nagel, the arguable Vargas of the late 1970s and early 1980s (and perhaps into the early 90s). While he began in graphic design, Nagel ultimately became famous when his “The Nagel Woman” was published in Playboy in 1976. Over the next seven years, at least one Nagel drawing appeared in every issue of Playboy. I didn’t know that before I wrote the Vargas comparison, but I suppose “arguable Vargas” is an understatement.

Patrick Nagel lived to be 38 years old. He lived only 1 year, 8 months and 25 days after the release of Rio. His brief life is made more curious by his untimely and ironic death (from the Patrick Nagel Wikipedia page):

Nagel was known to always have either a cigarette, martini or a bag of M&M’s in hand. Due to his lifestyle, Nagel often stayed up long hours into the night and slept during the day. Some have speculated that Nagel was aware of his lifestyle’s effect on his health and he was said to have tried to quit smoking not too long before his death. In 1984, at the age of 38, Nagel participated in a 15-minute celebrity “aerobathon” to raise funds for the American Heart Association. After much confusion and wondering of his whereabouts, he was found dead in his car outside the aerobics studio having suffered a myocardial infarction. A further autopsy revealed that Nagel had a congenital heart defect that went undetected his entire life.


Unlike Vargas, Nagel did not include any women of color in his work (if you know of any, please send them to me). The Nagel Woman was lily white, with dark hair (similar to depictions of people by Japanese artists). Bright and white. There could be a multitude of reasons for this, and none of them are really wrong. However, it does make you consider standards of beauty, especially in terms of Reagan’s 80s.

I can only find one interview with Patrick Nagel which took place two years before Nagel’s death. He presents as Bill Murray’s refined and artsy little brother, and just as you read above, he has a cigarette in his hand throughout the interview.

8 thoughts on “Her Name is Rio: The Women of Patrick Nagel”

  1. What’s odd is that the woman “Rio” was supposedly of South American decent, and many of Nagel’s models were hispanic. I always thought Nagel’s lack of pigment was more reflective of his art deco style than a caucasian lean.


  2. What’s odd is that the woman “Rio” was supposedly of South American decent, and many of Nagel’s models were hispanic. I always thought Nagel’s lack of pigment was more reflective of his art deco style than a caucasian lean.


  3. It is a urban legend that many of the models were in fact transgender.. but back the. It was simply called transsexual .. Note the bone structure of the models.. these paintings that became prints were actually rotoscoped .. that is they were paintings done on top of s photograph


  4. Great piece. Nice to see Nagel getting some much-deserved love. Sometimes it seems like he’s been generally forgotten–not the work so much as the man. I have a Michelle which I got from Todd Bingham, who became a friend. Todd is pretty sure his interview is the only one, but I swear he was on the Tonight Show once. Maybe I’m imagining things. Anyway, have you seen this: http://www.robfrankel.com/NagelSite/

    Liked by 1 person

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