In the decade since artist Joe Eula's death in 2004, the former New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn has written about him several times, first in his obituary for that newspaper and later when she revisited his work for the short-lived British journal Pourquoi Pas? in 2007. In between, in an article for the now-defunct Canadian fashion magazine The Look, Horyn recalled how she had entered Eula's life in 2001 "on the pretext of interviewing him for a book I was working on with Bill Blass. But in truth I was curious about Joe."
The strands of that curiosity and Horyn’s subsequent research come together in her new book with Eula archivist and art executor Melisa Gosnell, Joe Eula: Master of Twentieth-Century Fashion Illustration (HarperDesign, $85). The tome is the first published work dedicated to a great whose career spanned 50 years but who has largely been forgotten – this despite his prolific talent and his wide-ranging social and professional contacts. Eula was, for instance, the creative director for Halston during his 1970s heyday; he also did the drawings for Eloise creator Kay Thompson’s saucy 1970 abecedary, Miss Pooky Peckinpaugh and Her Secret Private Boyfriends.
Horyn calls Eula a “great crossover artist,” one who documented everyone from Louis Auchincloss to Liza with a Z. She sets the scene by opening her biographical chapter with Eula encountering Coco Chanel in her Paris salon in 1962, covers the war hero’s early assignments for Eugenia Sheppard at the New York Herald Tribune and examines his work as a stylist and set designer for photographer Milton H. Greene. Eula’s own words, gleaned from interviews and other sources (such as an unpublished 1989 memoir proposal), inform the book.
Deliciously and extravagantly, the volume is also thick with sketches, posters and finished illustrations – more than 200 images in total, including such projects as his 1990 program for a Christian Dior couture show, a Miles Davis album cover (1961’s Sketches for Spain) and posters for the 1964 Broadway production of High Spirits, starring Beatrice Lillie and Tammy Grimes.
What every breezy line and whimsical gesture captures is his sense of motion, his desire for meaning and his own restless energy. The book is a fitting reflection of his work.