Ten Fashion Moments Illustrated by Joe Eula

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Halston and Eula, 1970s
Halston and Eula, 1970sPhotography courtesy of HarperDesign, HarperCollins

We consider the artful brush strokes of legendary fashion illustrator Joe Eula

Joe Eula is one of the greatest fashion illustrators of the twentieth century. In a few concise, distinctive brushstrokes he managed to capture the era’s most iconic moments in fashion and popular culture, from intimate portraits of Diana Vreeland and Lauren Bacall to both Yves Saint Laurent’s first and final collections. His illustrations accompanied Eugenia Sheppard’s iconic fashion column in the New York Herald Tribune, adding visual flair to her influential fashion reports throughout the 1950s and 60s. “Joe didn’t go into great detail in his drawings, but he showed you what the object was about,” remembers Liza Minnelli, “It was the damnedest thing.”

One of fashion’s most discreet insiders, he counted Halston, Coco Chanel and Loulou de la Falaise amongst his friends and held weekly parties at his top floor New York apartment. Andy Warhol once referred to him as “the most important person” in New York. “He knows everybody who’s anybody. Anybody who’s somebody… all the really chic people.” Eula also worked as Halston’s creative director for much of the 1970s, adding his less-is-more slant to Halston’s tunics and shirt dresses.

“Joe knows everybody who’s anybody. Anybody who’s somebody… all the really chic people” — Andy Warhol

A new book by fashion journalist Cathy Horyn, titled Joe Eula: Master of Twentieth Century Fashion Illustration, brings together a selection of more than 200 sketches that span over fifty years, detailing his contribution to fashion, design and entertainment. Here, we pick our ten favourite fashion moments, illustrated by Joe Eula.

1. Yves Saint Laurent introduced his Mondrian day dress in 1965, his own take on the decade’s A-line thigh-skimming shift as inspired by the eponymous artist. Eula captured the moment and later wrote, “Yves wowed the world with pea jackets, sacks and coolie clothes.”

2. Eula was there for Yves Saint Laurent's first collection in 1958, and he was also there when he retired in 2002. He was commissioned by the New York Times to illustrate a multi-page article reflecting on Laurent’s career and circle of friends. He described the couturier's farewell as “the best show I’ve seen in fifty-four years of looking.”

3. Eula worked primarily as a fashion illustrator, but also turned out drawings for album covers, show posters and nightclub logos. He drew Liza Minnelli’s 1972 concert poster, Liza with a Z, alongside artwork for The Supremes and Miles Davis. “He remembered more than just the costume,” Minnelli recalls. “He remembered the energy and the intent of the performance.”

4. Alongside his direct fashion studies, Eula was known for his sharp observation of people. “If you could do it with one line,” he instructed, “Why put down fifty?"

5. Eula and Halston worked together for the majority of the 1970s, and many believe it was Eula who gave Halston his edge. “Here was Halston, with all his ladies, being comme il faut,” remembers former model, China Machado, “and Joe came in and was like, “'What the fuck?' He was the most outrageous person. I think it loosened Halston up.”

6. Eula illustrated Christian Dior’s revolutionary New Look for Eugenia Sheppard’s syndicated newspaper column. In his book, I Was a Mad Man: A Madison Avenue Memoir, Richard L. Gilbert writes, “Nobody could capture the riotous curves of Dior quite like Joe Eula… his light, airy, ink and charcoal interpretations brought a new look to fashion illustration.”

7. Gianfranco Ferré became stylistic director for Christian Dior in Paris in 1989. Eula illustrated one of his first collections in 1990 – a sophisticated blend of architectural shapes and drapery.

8. Eula illustrated and designed costumes for the New York City Ballet. He was invited by Jerome Robbins to design the set and costume for Dances at a Gathering in 1969, after Robbins had admired an invitation Eula had designed for a concert in aid of Cesar Chavez. His approach to costume was as light and fluid as his illustration, and he won a Tony award for his work on a Broadway production of Private Lives in 1968.

9. “I had heard about this woman all my life,” said Eula of Coco Chanel. “She was just like a knife in everyone’s gut and brain.” Chanel had a strict no-sketch policy in her Paris salon, however Eula took a risk with his sketchpad in 1962. She caught him, but by the time she had walked towards his seat he had already finished the sketch. The two became good friends, and every time Eula was in Paris for the shows he would take Chanel to see West Side Story. “It was the only show she liked.”

10. All of the greatest models and socialites were illustrated by Eula: Twiggy, Elsa Peretti, Babe Paley, Nan Kempner, Gloria Guinness. Audiences enjoyed his candid interpretations of the fashion world at play, and his quick sketches capture an artful balance between couture and caricature.

Joe Eula: Master of Twentieth Century Fashion Illustration is out now, published by Harper Design.

Words by Mhairi Graham