NEW YORK — Joseph Eula, a fashion illustrator for some of the world’s leading designers and magazines and a man-about-town, died Wednesday at Benedictine Hospital in Kingston, N.Y. He was 79.
The cause of death was lung cancer, his brother Anthony said.
One of four children whose father died when he was a toddler, Eula grew up in Norwalk, Conn., a then-gritty mill town, and went on to sketch fashion shows and illustrations around the globe. Among those he befriended were Elsa Peretti, Liza Minnelli, Kay Thompson, Eleanor Lambert, Geoffrey Beene and scores of others. He was known for his lightning speed and choice use of lines. Eula also was adept socially — never missing the chance for a quick laugh.
John Loring, design director for Tiffany & Co., said, “He was great company and wonderfully mischievous. If you wanted animation in a group, you called up Joe immediately. His humor was never anecdotal. It was always about the whole feeling of the moment and maneuvering some pretty stormy seas in New York in a graceful and witty way.”
He was in the military before venturing into the art world. After enlisting in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division in 1942, Eula served overseas in the Italian campaign until the end of the World War II. Back in the States, he enrolled in the Art Students League here and then later worked in Paris with Eugenia Sheppard at the International Herald Tribune and Coco Chanel. Life, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and Town & Country were among the leading magazines that he worked for during his career.
Eula provided the backdrop — a black and white painting of the Eiffel Tower — when Halston, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, and Oscar de la Renta descended on Versailles for Marie-Helene de Rothschild’s groundbreaking Franco-American fashion extravaganza in 1973. The illustrator helped out his equally quick-witted friend and “Heloise” creator Kay Thompson, who choreographed the Americans’ distinctive presentation, which included some high-kicking by Liza Minnelli. When the original plan to drape chiffon for the backdrop bombed under the Europeans’ do-not-touch lighting, Eula followed Thompson’s lead and sketched the Eiffel Tower as a backup.
“The only set we had was the one drop of the Eiffel Tower Joe drew and a few sketches he did for ‘Cabaret.’ Other than that, it was just the stage, the gowns and the spotlight — and we won,” Minnelli said. “Their show was two and a half hours and ours was 33 minutes and we killed them. People stood up and threw their programs. Yves Saint Laurent ran backstage and picked Kay up on his shoulder.”
Eula designed practically every poster Minnelli used, and the actress often sat watching him sketch late into the night. “Every time you were with him it was an event. When I would spend an evening with him, I would come home reeling just from his energy.”
“Joe was the real thing and I think that far, far into the future, people will be talking about his drawings,” Minnelli said.
Valentino said, “He was an amazing witness of the new American fashion born in the Seventies. He was not just great illustrator, but also an important member of this new movement.”
Having known Eula for more than 40 years, Pierre Bergé, the former chairman of Yves Saint Laurent, said, “His talent was exceptional. It’s a talent that no longer exists. All we’ve got today are screaming photographers. He had a unique way of capturing movement and the true spirit of the clothes. With him, another of the stars who defined a generation of fashion has disappeared.”
In the late Eighties, Walter Hoving, former Tiffany & Co. chairman, tapped Eula to provide the illustrations for his book, “Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers.” Before long, Eula was providing accents for Gene Moore’s window displays at its Fifth Avenue store.
“They were all part of the same group that created the look of New York and New York fashion,” Loring said.
Eula did illustrations for various exhibitions, brochures and invitations for Tiffany, and even designed motifs for three china collections, which the company continues to sell. He also designed the decorations that used to hang nearby in his friend Geoffrey Beene’s store in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel.
Having worked with Eula in the Seventies at Vogue and on Halston advertising campaigns, Rochelle Udell, who is now Revlon’s chief creative officer, said his drawings expanded your imagination.
“The gesture of the fashion is what he was superb at,” she said. “He was able to capture the essence of designers, not just the dress alone. You could fabricate an entire life around one of his drawings.”
Bobby Short recalled meeting Eula at the Living Room in the Fifties through their mutual friend, Carol McCallsen, a former Ford model. Over the years, Short was among the many guests who frequented Eula’s Midtown townhouse for soul food, dancing and music. “The first place I heard a recording of bossa nova music was at Joe’s house,” Short said. “He must have known a million people. He was instantly friendly — no pretension. I cannot stress enough how generous he was.’”
Eula was always at the ready to volunteer his services for his friends — whether it be caricatures for an AIDS charity event at Glenn Bernbaum’s Mortimer’s, invitations to Short’s 80th birthday party at the Rainbow Room last month or a spin on the dance floor in France with Joan Collins.
Marisa Berenson said she met Eula when she arrived in New York at 17, and she, her sister, Berry Berenson, and Lulu de Falaise became fast friends with him, Halston and their mixture of friends.
“He never changed, Joe. Every time I spoke with him, which was quite often, he had an extremely young spirit. He was full of energy, full of encouragement and full of sensitivity,” Berenson said. “He was always in a good mood and positive. I never even knew he was sick.”
Rosita Missoni, said, “He was a true artist and a dear friend. Whenever we had a chance to cross paths it was as if we had seen each other the day before. He was fun, warm and friendly. We loved him, admired him for his heart and for his friendship. We will miss him.”
James Caruso, a performer, recalled Eula’s personal panache for mixing pieces from The Gap and Army Navy Surplus stores with stylish scarves tied around his neck or an arm. “He was almost like a dancer — he could wrap himself in anything and look chic,” Caruso said.
About six years ago, Caruso stopped by a show of Eula’s work in an Upper East Side bookstore and mentioned how he would like to buy an illustration. “Joe said to me, ‘Buy one? Are you crazy? Here, come with me.’ He took me into a little room filled with sketches and said. ‘What do you like? Take something. I don’t want you to pay those crazy prices.’”
The New York Times sent Eula to sketch the European collections as recently as two years ago. Andy Port, deputy style editor, said, “I met Joe at the end of his life and he was just a hoot. He was an old man but you’d never know it.”
In addition to his brother Anthony, Eula is survived by another brother, Dominick, and a sister, Margaret Clapps.
— With contributions from Miles Socha and Robert Murphy, Paris and Alessandra Ilari, Milan