Frances Grill, who in 1980 founded Click Model Management, a New York agency that gained attention for the diversity of its models in a less inclusive era, died Jan. 24 at her Manhattan home. She was 90 years old.
His death was confirmed by his son, Joey Grill.
Since its inception, Click has refused to be limited by conventional standards of what a model should look like. Over the years he has represented white models (Elle Macpherson, model-actress Isabella Rossellini and Uma Thurman), black models (Gail O’Neill and singer-actress Whitney Houston), transgender model Teri Toye and the model Attila Von Somogyi.
Ms Macpherson, who began working with Ms Grill as a teenager in the early 1980s, said in a telephone interview on Monday that Ms Grill “wasn’t interested in the cookie-cutter talent”.
“It wasn’t really what people looked like – she was interested in who they were and what they stood for,” she said. “In a world where being homogeneous was where – especially as a teenager – you wanted to be, she celebrated differences.”
Puerto Rican-born Talisa Soto Bratt became a Click model around the same time as Ms Macpherson, after other agencies turned her down.
“In 1982, diversity didn’t exist in magazines or in the fashion industry,” she said Monday. “It was completely driven by ‘blond blue eyes’. Of course, Frances — her whole vision was, ‘Look at the world, look at how diverse it is. We have to represent that.’
Mrs. Grill was born Frances Gecker on August 10, 1928 in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn to Fred and Beckie (Goldstein) Gecker. His father was a longshoreman and trade unionist, his mother a seamstress.
Ms. Grill studied shorthand in high school and after graduation took a job as a secretary. She left the post to check hats at the Village Gate nightclub in Greenwich Village. There, she found herself at home among the club’s bohemian clientele, Joey Grill said in an interview.
“It was a melting pot for poets, artists, musicians and photographers,” he said, “people who were what she always called free thinkers.”
Ms. Grill became a photographer’s agent through a chance encounter and her own audacity. One particularly stormy night in 1962, while standing under a canopy to shelter from the rain, she began chatting with a man, Alberto Rizzo, who was also waiting for the storm to pass. He told her he was a fashion photographer. She quickly suggested it – what a coincidence! — she was a photographer’s agent, although she had never done this kind of work before. He became his first client.
His list has grown to include top photographers including Frank Horvat, Oliviero Toscani and Steven Meisel.
Ms. Grill’s move into model management was also spontaneous. A few decades after he began representing photographers, one of his clients, Fabrizio Ferri, came to his office accompanied by Ms. Rossellini, his girlfriend at the time. She had posed for no professional photographer other than Mr. Ferri.
“She looked at it and put her finger to her mouth, like she did when she was thinking,” Mr. Ferri said of Ms. Grill in a phone interview. “She started looking Isabella up and down and then she said, ‘Hmm, I think I’m going to open a modeling agency. ”
Ms. Grill immediately set to work on behalf of Ms. Rossellini, who joined the fledgling agency shortly thereafter.
“She took Isabella straight to Avedon, and the next day Richard Avedon shot Isabella for the cover of American Vogue,” Mr Ferri said. “That’s how Frances was – she was pure instinct.”
The two women’s relationship spanned nearly two decades, and it produced Ms Rossellini’s long-term, multimillion-dollar deal with cosmetics company Lancôme.
“Frances and her click were more than an agency to me,” Ms. Rossellini wrote in an email Monday. “She was my mentor who taught me the work ethic” as well as how to “manage a career and enjoy every second of it”.
As some of her clients began to take an interest in Hollywood, Ms. Grill helped found Flick East-West Talents, to represent actors. She was also a co-founder of a bicoastal theater management agency, Framework Entertainment, and Industria Superstudio, a cavernous facility for photoshoots and events in midtown Manhattan.
She married Irwin Grill, a high school vice principal, in 1954. The marriage ended in divorce in the late 1960s, but they remained friends; Mr. Grill now works in Click’s accounting department.
In the early 1970s Mrs. Grill married Ulf Lundqvist, a designer. This marriage also ended in divorce.
In addition to her son, Ms. Grill is survived by a daughter, Stephanie Grill – both children work for Click – and four grandchildren.
Ms Grill continued to work at the agency, on West 27th Street in the Chelsea section, until about six months ago.
Although Ms. Grill was immersed in the fashion industry, she herself mostly shopped at thrift stores. Anthony Baratta, an interior designer who was a friend and neighbor of Ms. Grill for many years, frequently accompanied her on shopping trips near their weekend homes in Flanders, NY, in the East End of Long Island.
“One night I was watching the Oscars, and on the red carpet Frances is walking with Isabella Rossellini,” he said over the phone. “She is in this black ensemble. I know it was from the Salvation Army in Riverhead the weekend before, but the way she did things was very French.
His impetus was not frugality but a desire to find quirky items that suited him, Joey Grill said. Her trademark accessory was a pair of large glasses, which she started wearing in the early 1980s, he said, to keep cigarette smoke out of her eyes.