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Eileen Ford 1922 - 2014

Eileen Ford 1922 - 2014

Eileen Ford (born 25 March 1922) died at Morristown Medical Center, New Jersey, yesterday, Wednesday 9th July. She was 92.

Eileen Ford created the twentieth century’s largest and most successful model agency, representing and advancing the careers of hundreds of the world’s most famous models — among them Dorian Leigh, Suzy Parker, Jean Patchett, Dovima, Wilhelmina, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Tippi Hedren, Maud Adams, Martha Stewart, Jean Shrimpton, Ali MacGraw, Candice Bergen, Lauren Hutton, Christie Brinkley, Rene Russo, Karen Graham, Kim Basinger, Brooke Shields, Cheryl Tiegs, Jerry Hall, Janice Dickenson, Naomi Campbell, Rachel Hunter, Karen Elson, Veronica Webb, Elle Macpherson, Christy Turlington, Patricia Velásquez, Crystal Renn, Alek Wek, Erin O’Connor and Beverly Johnson, the first Afro-American to appear on the cover of Vogue in 1974.

Eileen was an outspoken and controversial woman, never afraid to offend in defense of her traditional standards and, in particular, of the welfare of her models to whom she was fiercely protective. If ever she heard of a photographer making inappropriate advances to one of her girls, she would confront the offender directly, and he would be lucky if he ever worked with Ford again.

Eileen Ford treated her models as her own children — many stayed with her and her family in their Manhattan town house at East 78th Street. With her husband Jerry Ford she worked to improve models’ working conditions and wages after the Second World War— reforming the lax and tardy payment practices that were the norm in the industry at that time, and moving away from payment by the hour to the concept of payment by ‘usage’, thus laying the economic basis for the modern phenomenon of the supermodel.

In 1974 the Fords negotiated modeling’s first ever million dollar contract — for their client Lauren Hutton with Revlon’s Ultima 2 — a landmark in linking the payment of successful models to the sales performance of the goods that they advertised. These new Ford contracts, mainly for perfume and make-up, made their models stakeholders in the success of the product they promoted, helping to turn models into celebrities and paving the way for the multi-million dollar fortunes of today’s supermodels - a large number of whom got their start with Ford.

Eileen Ford was famous for her scouting and her ability to ‘spot’ a model - though she made some mistakes: Grace Kelly and Marisa Berenson were among the models she rejected.

In 1977 the Fords’ battle with the rival Elite model agency, headed by the late John Casablancas, led to a decade-long struggle known as the Model Wars, which resulted in dramatically increased rates for the models of all agencies.

In the 1990s Eileen and Jerry Ford handed over day-to-day management of their agency to their daughter Katie Ford, who sold the business to a Russian-backed consortium early in 2008.

Married in San Francisco in 1944 – Eileen eloped to marry Jerry before he set sail for the Pacific as a naval lieutenant – the Fords had three daughters, Jamie, Katie and Lacey, and a son Billy. Jerry Ford died in August 2008, aged eighty-three. In the final years of their life, the couple lived in a rambling house on a hill in Oldwick, New Jersey, where Eileen enjoyed entertaining her family and friends – as well as her former models, who were her children for ever.

Model Woman, Robert Lacey’s biography of Eileen Ford, will be published by HarperCollins early in 2015.
Film rights optioned by Sony Pictures TV.

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