Joe Eula, an illustrator who caught the riotous curves of fashion from Dior’s New Look in the 1940’s until the end of Saint Laurent’s reign, died a week ago in Kingston, N.Y. He was 79 and lived in Manhattan and in Hurley, N.Y.
He died after going into a hospital recently because of pneumonia and a bad reaction to chemotherapy, said a nephew, Tom Eula.
Although he was a free spirit who drew quickly and often cut his ties when it suited him, Mr. Eula was no artistic dabbler. His illustrations accompanied Eugenia Sheppard’s fashion columns in The New York Herald Tribune. He created album covers and concert posters for performers like Miles Davis, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler and the Supremes. He designed costumes for Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. He illustrated Tiffany’s “Table Manners for Teenagers.” In 1970, he became creative director of Halston, acting as both instigator and provocateur.
In 1973, when Halston and four other American designers went to France to present their clothes at Versailles opposite five French couturiers, Mr. Eula created the backdrop for the Americans’ set. When he discovered that the drapery they had planned to use fell short of the stage floor because of a faulty conversion from meters into yards, Mr. Eula went out and bought a roll of white seamless paper and, using black stove paint and a broom, sketched the Eiffel Tower. It was a sensation.
Speed and a gift for improvising combined with joie de vivre characterized Mr. Eula’s life: he wasn’t a designer, but he had judgment and flair that the best designers trusted.
He was born Jan. 16, 1925, in Norwalk, Conn., the second of four children. He was 2 when his father died and his mother, Lena, supported the family by running a grocery store. After graduating from high school in 1942, Mr. Eula enlisted in the ski-borne 10th Mountain Division, serving in the Italian campaign. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
After his discharge, in December 1945, Mr. Eula enrolled at the Art Students League in Manhattan. While he was still a student, his first illustrations were published in Town & Country magazine, when Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg was editor. He also did drawings for Saks Fifth Avenue.
Mr. Eula’s illustrations were distinguished by a light, brisk hand and an unstudied sense of female movement. In the mid 50’s, he began his association with Ms. Sheppard, whose influential syndicated column, Inside Fashion, appeared in more than 80 newspapers in the United States. They attended the twice-yearly collections in Paris, with Mr. Eula duplicating in ink and charcoal the elegance he saw in the salons. He was present for Yves Saint Laurent’s first collection for Dior, in 1958, and for his last, in January 2002, with those sketches appearing in The New York Times Magazine. He also had a long association with Italian Harpers Bazaar.
His life was one of fortuitous intersections that seemed to characterize New York in the postwar era. He and the photographer Milton Greene met in the 40’s and used to hang out with jazz musicians like Mr. Davis, for whom Mr. Eula designed a black silk suit and later the cover for his album “Sketches of Spain.” He was present for Mr. Greene’s famous “Black Sitting” with Marilyn Monroe, and in 1960 the two men formed a partnership that eventually produced hundreds of images for Life magazine, including the cover with Faye Dunaway in “Bonnie and Clyde.” He also directed a television special for Lauren Bacall.
Based on an invitation that Mr. Eula had designed for a benefit for Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Union, Mr. Robbins asked him to design costumes for his 1969 ballet “Dances at a Gathering.” He also designed the costumes for Mr. Robbins’s “Goldberg Variations.”
Mr. Eula’s knowledge of style extended far beyond illustration. He spent much of the 70’s working with Halston.
“I’ve always maintained that, thanks to Joe Eula and Elsa Peretti, Halston became what he was in terms of style,” said the designer Fernando Sanchez, a friend of Mr. Eula’s since the early 60’s. “They really defined Halston’s style and the idea that chic doesn’t necessarily imply money.”
In the 80’s, Mr. Eula began to spend more time at his home in Dutchess County, where even his arrangements of summer vegetables betrayed a critical eye. He designed a line of china for Tiffany based on flowers and animals, which the store continues to sell. He drew his last fashion illustrations in August for The Times, of a series of fall coats.
Addio Mr. Eula – R.I.P