It was well known in the modeling world that with a look, Eileen Ford could make or break a career.
What separates a million-dollar supermodel from an average pretty face? “Fire in the eyes,” she once said. “A fascinating energy, an intelligence, a look of I-know-who-I-am. It’s an elusive quality best described by the words charisma, excitement, magnetism. It’s a star quality that I pray for.
Ms Ford, who died on July 9 at 92, co-founded Ford Models, which has become one of the most prestigious modeling agencies in the industry. She helped launch the careers of cover girls and future actresses, including Jane Fonda, Suzy Parker, Jean Patchett, Lauren Hutton, Christie Brinkley, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Elle Macpherson.
His family confirmed his death and said the cause was complications from meningioma, a type of brain tumor, and osteoporosis. Ms. Ford who had lived in Califon, NJ, died in a hospital in Morristown, NJ
Working with her husband and business partner, Gerald “Jerry” Ford, Ms. Ford became a supermodel who helped transform the industry into a multi-billion dollar global business.
Ms. Ford’s agency defined and shaped what it meant to be an all-American beauty – and turned it into a global standard. The Ford “girls”, known for being fresh, clean and healthy, were presented as impeccable, but not unapproachable. Refined, but not distant.
As the New York Times described the typical Ford model: “the girl next door who never lives next door.”
Ms. Ford once told People, “I create a look and I create a style. American women mean a lot to me. . . . I help them understand how they can look better, how to do this, do that, find a job. And they are very confident. Like little lost children.
When she started her business in the late 1940s – after a brief stint as a model herself – models were generally unrepresented and expected to negotiate their salaries. With rare exceptions, models were paid poorly, if at all. Most worked part-time and were vulnerable to exploitation by advertisers and photographers.
“There were modeling agencies, but one of the owners would go to jail, and I thought it needed a different kind of agency, a trust agency,” she told an interviewer. in 1988.
Together with her husband, she set out to create an agency that would champion young models and demand professionalism. Their New York-based company — which began in a Second Avenue walk-up — has become known in the industry as being fair and ethical.
Ford Models was the first agency to create a voucher system that guaranteed standardized compensation and working hours for models. To protect its clients, the firm has a strict system in place to ensure that models are paid for their time, including during preliminary fittings and photoshoots that are canceled or marred by bad weather.
Under Ms Ford’s watchful eye, the agency imposed high moral standards from the start – models were barred from posing in advertisements promoting deodorant and bras. They couldn’t pose in bathtubs. And they couldn’t expose “excessive amounts of breast”. (Some of these prohibitions disappeared as public mores changed.)
“Their life was very important to me. It wasn’t just a business,” Ms Ford told Women’s Wear Daily in 2010. “Our business was built on trust. They trusted us and we loved them.
Her husband, Jerry, stepped in to run the business and the mechanics while Eileen focused on sprinting after desirable talent all over the world, chasing beauties in department stores, restaurants and city centers. crowded.
She focused her attention on certain attributes, especially wide eyes, a straight nose, and a long neck. She advised anyone under 5ft 7in to look for other forms of employment. The most important were charisma and attitude.
“They have a certain arrogance,” she once told Life magazine. “They are just Go be good and you can just say so. . . . I see girls that I know – I’m absolutely to know — will be star models in just a few weeks, and they always will be.
Under their guidance, models who met his standards soared into bonafide celebrities and stars. Ford’s first customers, Dovima, Jean Patchett, Suzy Parker and her sister, Dorian Leigh, dominated magazine covers in the 1940s and 50s.
Later beauties included Hutton, Cheryl Tiegs, Brinkley, Brooke Shields, Carol Alt and Macpherson. Actresses Fonda, Sharon Stone and Ali MacGraw all modeled for Ford before their screen careers. A young Martha Stewart modeled for Ford in the 1960s.
Motherly yet stern, Ms. Ford trained and nurtured dozens of young models, many of whom lived with her as guests in her home. She treated them like family: they shared food, clothes, rooms and even curfews with her biological daughters. In return, Ms Ford insisted that she be allowed to approve their friends and their dates, where they were going and how long they were away.
“Most role models are emotionally abandoned,” she told Life in 1970. “They need me. I’m their mother.
She honed and cultivated every aspect of young models, from their appearance and mannerisms to their personality. She insisted that sitters be responsible, dignified, and distinguished, and chaperoned them to courses in Renaissance furniture or painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“Eileen Ford inspires awe, respect, anger and fear, but above all fear,” wrote former Ford model Stephani Cook in 1982. “She is imperious, difficult, demanding and ferocious, a vengeful fire-eater. And yet, she loves as fiercely as she hates…because she’s the best at what she does.”
If a girl didn’t follow her standards of behavior, no matter how talented, Ms. Ford would likely fire her from the agency.
“Models are a business, and they should treat themselves like a business,” Ms. Ford told the Toronto Star. “Which means they have to take care of themselves and give up all the joys of youth.”
Eileen Cecile Otte was born in New York on March 25, 1922 and grew up well off in Great Neck, Long Island. The family owned a business that determined corporate credit ratings.
She graduated in 1943 from Barnard College in New York and a year later ran away with her boyfriend, Jerry Ford. He died in 2008. Survivors include four children, Jamie Craft of Washington; Bill Ford of Palm Beach, Florida; Katie Ford of New York; and Lacey Williams of Los Angeles; and a brother; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Ms Ford worked briefly as a model while in college and turned to model management during her pregnancy to earn extra money.
“We couldn’t afford to move, so we decided to start a modeling agency,” she told American Photo magazine. “After the baby was born, I thought I would go to law school, but by then I had eight role models.”
Within a year, the agency had brought in $250,000.
As their agency grew from a husband and wife store to a globally recognized agency, the Fords gained fierce competition. In what became known as the “Model Wars” of the 1970s and 1980s, Ford Models found itself embroiled in bitter rivalries against agencies such as Wilhelmina (founded by former Ford model Wilhelmina Cooper) and Elite Model Management, led by John Casablancas.
Time magazine reported that when Casablancas entered the US market and began attracting top models and several executives – violating an unspoken agreement not to encroach on her territory in Manhattan – Mrs. Ford sent her a Bible with passages highlighted on Judas Iscariot.
“She is Machiavellian and Byzantine,” Casablancas once said of Mrs. Ford. “She is like a serpent with seven heads: cut off six, and she still has one left to bite you.”
Over time Ford Models grew and created divisions for children and men and in 1980 established an international modeling competition called Ford Models Supermodel of the World.
The Fords resigned and appointed their daughter, Katie Ford, as managing director in 1995. Twelve years later, the company was sold to an investment bank, Stone Tower Equity Partners.
Ms Ford wrote five books on beauty and modeling and at the time of her death was cooperating with historian Robert Lacey on a biography of her life.
In the fashion world, she has often been hailed as a pioneering female entrepreneur.
“They always say, ‘How did you do as a woman?’ she told Women’s Wear Daily in 2010. “I’ve never had trouble doing anything as a woman. I did it because I had to and it worked.