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Life Drawing

E-mail has replaced the fine art of letter-writing. Texting stands in for actual human conversation. And photography is advancing at such dizzying speeds...

E-mail has replaced the fine art of letter-writing. Texting stands in for actual human conversation. And photography is advancing at such dizzying speeds that it’s easy to forget that illustration used to be the medium of choice for fashion. This spring brings a strong reminder with the publication of “Drawing Fashion: The Art of Kenneth Paul Block” by Susan Mulcahy (Pointed Leaf Press). For nearly four decades beginning in the late Fifties, the Parsons-educated Block, now 83, was a staff artist at Fairchild Publications, where he sketched subjects ranging from the twice-annual collections in Paris to American society figures such as Babe Paley, the Duchess of Windsor, Nan Kempner, C.Z. Guest and Jackie O for WWD and W. Tonight, Isaac Mizrahi and Gloria Vanderbilt will cohost cocktails in celebration of the artist at Bergdorf Goodman, which is offering a special limited edition of the tome. WWD caught up with Block.

WWD: Do you still keep up with fashion?

K.P.B.: I don’t pay very much attention to it, I must say. Even when I was doing work on a daily basis, the main emphasis to me was not fashion. I loved very, very beautiful clothes. I was lucky because I worked in a period when great elegance was admired.

WWD: Did anyone you drew ever take offense to the final result?

K.P.B.: Not that I know of — I mean, everybody’s so polite. And also some of those beautiful ladies are famous, as well, so they’ve been depicted by all sorts of media and they’re brave about it. There’s nothing one can think of that is more courageous than a woman who is admired for her beauty and position. They are the target of the world and they face it and go on.

WWD: Is there anyone now who inspires you to the extent that those women did?

K.P.B.: I don’t want to speak of individual women, but there are people I find admirable and entertaining and amusing. There are very few. So far as designers are concerned, I think clothes have gone out of style.

WWD: What do you mean by that?

K.P.B.: Clothes used to be a matter of study and painstaking work. A lot of thought and effort would go into dressing. I think no one really does that anymore. That way of dressing simply doesn’t exist anymore and that is why I don’t necessarily worship fashion. The fashion for men these days to have three days of growth of beard….You know, you look at them and you wonder, do they realize what they’re doing? I think it’s such a joke that they will all do it. My interest in fashion is absolutely nil because it has become — and Shakespeare did say it — “the deformed thief.” Well, I’ve said too much. Maybe I should take it all back.