“From early childhood, I wanted to draw glamorous women in beautiful clothes.”
Kenneth Paul Block was born in New Rochelle, NY in 1924, where he began drawing at a very early age. Tucked away in the attic of his family's home, he pored over the stacks of his mother's issues of Harper's Bazaar Magazine. In those pages, he found inspiration as he sketched the models, studied the fashions, learned about style, and internalized what it meant to be glamorous. From the silver screen, Garbo, Dietrich, and Hepburn became his larger than life models. His intense study of their elegance and panache provided much early preparation for his entry into the world of fashion--a world that would soon pivot upon the tip of his pen. Kenneth attended Straubenmuller Textile High School, winning his first award for fashion design in 1943.
After graduating from Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, Block worked as an illustrator for McCall’s Patterns. At McCall's he learned the ins-and-outs of garment construction, honed his technical drawing skills, and developed his ability to create highly detailed and nuanced illustrations of fabric textures and finishes. By the mid-1950s, however, he was ready to take on more challenging, more creative, and more conceptual expressions of the work of the prominent designers of the day. Block joined the industry’s premier trade paper, Women’s Wear Daily and began to shape the art form of fashion illustration.
Influenced by artistic movements outside of the fashion world and always using the most contemporary mediums, Block shifted the focus from literal depictions of the clothing to emotional renditions of the glamour inherent in the style. “Gesture to me is everything in fashion,” he says. “It’s in the way we sit, stand, walk, and lie. It’s in the bone.”
Kenneth Paul Block’s work embodied the soul and ideal of fashion so completely that it began to influence the designers themselves. Women’s Wear Daily had become so popular that its publisher, John Fairchild, launched a new magazine: W, with Block's work at the forefront.
Over several decades, fashion photography gradually assumed greater prominence in the world of haute couture and by the early 1990s many major publications had transitioned away from illustration to photography only. In 1992, even Fairchild Publications eliminated all of their staff artists including their star, Kenneth Paul Block. However, Block’s work had become universally recognized and acclaimed and his career continued to flourish. His work for prestigious fashion retailers such as Bergdorf-Goodman, Lord &Taylor, and Bonwit-Teller continued to appear in influential publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vogue and Harpers Bazaar magazines, substanting the value and power of editorial fashion drawing. The most famous designers of the day—Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Halston, Carolina Herrera, Calvin Klein, Isaac Mizrahi, Dior, Givenchy, and Yves St Laurent still looked to Block to document their designs. Moreover, at the height of his career, his work had become so influential that many designers began creating looks carefully calculated in anticipation of how their new concepts would look once Block had drawn them.
From the 1940’s until his death in 2009, Kenneth Paul Block shared his life with Morton Ribyat, a fellow artist and accomplished fabric designer. They worked together, forming an effective partnership to facilitate Block's work while creating a fulfilling life filled with friends, the arts, dance, and weekends at their beach house on the north shore of Long Island. Their reputation as an elegant couple preceded them as they traveled the world.
The Kenneth Paul Block Foundation was established in 2016 and currently holds the most extensive collection of Block’s artwork. It is dedicated to preserving and furthering the appreciation, recognition, and legacy of Kenneth Paul Block and his work, worldwide, through museum projects, gallery shows, lectures, and education.