Dior illustration by Joe Eula, late 1950s
As much as I love books, I have become incredibly selective with the ones I buy, especially that I don’t read kindle books, otherwise we will soon have to move houses just to be able to accommodate our alarmingly fast growing collection. And when, a few days ago, I returned a recently bought book that fell short of living up to my expectations (1. Through disappointing content, and 2. Because the author had the audacity to omit including any kind of bibliography – yes, it was the kind of book that required a bibliography; I didn’t even know a publishing house allows printing in such cases), I had a feeling of relief that I was committed to allow only books of the highest quality to enter my home.
Joe Eula: Master of Twentieth-Century Fashion Illustration, written by Cathy Horyn, with image curation by Melissa Gosnel and Dragon James, easily ticked off all my criteria. It is the first published book on the work of Joe Eula, whom I consider a bit of an unsung hero of the 20th century fashion illustration. Considering his remarkable output, he is barely acknowledged in surveys alongside Eric, René Bouché, Tom Keogh, and Antonio Lopez. I tend to pay special attention to this kind of artists, because there are not few times when this demonstrates their devotion to an uncompromising vision, regardless of any kind of pressure or influence they may be subjected to, and we have become a little short of these values these days.
“Au Revoir, Yves”, Eula’s reflection on Yves Saint Laurent’s career upon the designer’s retirement in 2002
In the early 1980s, when attending an Yves Saint Laurent couture show, Joe Eula stood up and started screaming in the middle of the presentation: “This is couture? These are the worst fucking clothes I’ve seen in my life and we’re leaving”. And he left. The same Joe Eula went to Saint Laurent’s final fashion show, “Au revoir, Yves”, in 2002, and remarked that it was “the best show I’ve seen in fifty-four years of looking”. Where is this kind of honesty in today’s fashion world?
Watercolour and pen illustration, late 1950s
“Eula was light and fast. His drawings were graphic, sharp, minimal, and, as with the portrait of Chanel, usually executed in a matter of seconds.” Cathy Horyn.
Tiffany & Co, 1990
What probably struck me the most at Joe Eula’s illustrations was his sharp eye in capturing the essence of whatever he was drawing, and the simplicity and spare lines, which I believe evoked so well the brilliance and minimalism of American fashion. After all, he was Halston’s creative director (he was a great crossover artist, often drawing for album covers, show posters and nightclub logos, many of them iconic) in the 1970s, the era of the designer’s greatest influence – some say much of it should be attributed to Eula’s contribution.
An illustration of Lauren Bacall and Halston at a fitting, 1973
“Joe didn’t go into great detail in his drawings, but he showed you what the object was about. It’s the damnest thing.” Liza Minnelli
photos: by me, from the book