March 25, 1922|
Long Island, New York
|Years active||1946 - 1995|
Eileen Ford (born March 25, 1922) is a model agency executive and co-founder, in 1946, with her late husband Jerry (Gerard Ford), of Ford Models, one of the earliest and internationally best known modelling agencies in the world.
 Early life
Eileen Ford, née Otte, grew up on the north shore of Long Island, New York. Eileen was a model during the summers of her freshman and sophomore years at Barnard College, modeling for the Harry Conover modeling agency, one of the first in the United States. She graduated from Barnard in 1943. In 1944, she met her future husband Jerry (Gerard Ford), at a drugstore near the Columbia University campus and married him in November 1944 in San Francisco. After eloping, Jerry, who was in the Navy, was shipped out for WWII. While Jerry was gone, Eileen became photographer Elliot Clark's secretary, a fashion stylist, a copywriter, and a fashion reporter for the Tobe Report.
Meanwhile in 1946, model Dorian Leigh left New York's Harry Conover agency because of his inefficient phone system. Dorian's clients had a difficult time reaching a Conover secretary on the phone to book her. Because of this, Dorian told Conover she was leaving and that she would hire her own secretary to take her modeling phone calls instead. Soon, a handful of models used Dorian's secretary. She then applied for a license because technically, it was a modeling agency at that point. At a fashion photographer's studio, Dorian met Eileen, who was fascinated how Dorian's modeling agency worked. Dorian explained that models had to manage their own invoices and billings, and often, the clients that models worked for, would take weeks, months, or even years to pay them for their work, if at all. Dorian told Eileen that she came up with the idea of a "voucher system." With this system, the agency was in charge of getting models jobs and keeping track of their billings. The models would be paid every Friday by the modeling agency, regardless whether the clients paid for the model's work on time or not, minus the agency's 10-20% fee. Eileen, also a former Conover model, was intrigued by Dorian's voucher idea.
 Ford Modeling Agency
After questioning Dorian about her agency, a pregnant Eileen, started to work as a secretary for several models, taking calls at her father's New York City law office, charging each model $65–$75 per month. After giving birth to her first child, daughter Jamie in March 1947, she continued to work hard. Jerry returned from the war in March 1946, and despite knowing nothing about the fashion industry, he joined Eileen in creating an agency. After only a year, Eileen and Jerry, sold their car and re-located their agency to a third-floor walkup on Second Avenue.
Although the Ford's location was terrible, within a year, the modeling agency was the second or third most successful in the United States, grossing $250,000. The Ford's first superstar model was Jean Patchett. The Fords also had the capital to instill the voucher system, something that other modeling agencies were not affluent enough to offer. Dorian Leigh, described Eileen as "one of the hardest working, most persistent persons I have ever known, two qualities which made her my very good friend for years and later, my unanticipated enemy."
Eileen offered superb service, and after only two years, the Fords began to seriously compete with the Huntington Hartford modeling agency and the John Robert Powers agencies, the two most successful modeling agencies at the time. Dorian Leigh, meanwhile, closed her modeling agency when she was pregnant with her third child in 1948. Dorian called Eileen and told them that her 15-years younger sister, Suzy Parker, age 16, was only making $25 per hour working as a model for Huntington Hartford. Dorian felt that Suzy, although very young, should be making $40 per hour. Dorian told her that she would join her two-year-old agency only if they took Suzy sight-unseen. Anxious to represent top-model Dorian, they agreed to her idea. Expecting a younger version of the raven-haired, blue-eyed, extremely thin, 5'4" Dorian, the Fords met Suzy, accompanied by Dorian, for the first time at a Lexington Avenue restaurant. They were shocked to see that Suzy was 5'10", had a large frame, orange hair, green eyes, and freckles. The Fords said, "Oh, my God!" when they saw her size, but they could see that Suzy had possibilities to become a successful model. Soon thereafter, Suzy Parker would become the most successful model of the 1950s, pushing the Ford's agency to number one. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Fords represented top models Mary Jane Russell, Carmen Dell'Orefice, and Dovima.
By 1954, the Fords were extremely successful and were living in a duplex apartment on Park Avenue. To make sure that their models were the most successful, the Fords provided hair dressers, dermatologists, and Eileen dispensed diet advice constantly. She allowed models to live with her to "keep a close eye on them so they'd stay out of trouble and make their early morning appointments." Eleven of Ford's busiest models were featured on the April 1955 issue of McCall's magazine. They were Jean Patchett, Patsy Shally, Lillian Marcuson, Nan Rees, Leonie Vernet, sisters Suzy Parker and Dorian Leigh, Georgia Hamilton, Dolores Hawkins, Kathy Dennis, and Mary Jane Rusell.
Eileen became very demanding of her models and her husband. Jerry resented Eileen's "bossy" ways and began to have an affair with one of their top models, Barbara Mullen. The Ford's marriage was in trouble and Jerry told Eileen, "mend (your) ways or we'll be divorced!" Eileen told author Michael Gross in a 1990s interview, " . . so I mended my ways. That's why I'm so docile now."
By the late 1950s, Eillen had given birth to four children, Jamie, Billy, Katie, and Lacey.
In the Fall of 1957, Dorian Leigh, age 40 and retired from modeling, was living in France. She decided to start another modeling agency, this time in France. The police and courts, however, insisted that Dorian was running an illegal employment agency, and she was fined. After WWII, employment agencies were declared illegal. Dorian then contacted the Fords about starting a legitimate modeling agency, the first of its kind in that country. Dorian continued to run a successful agency, but in 1959, Dorian was charged in court again, and after hiring a lawyer, she finally won her case. The Fords agreed that they would expand their modeling business into Europe, and Dorian would represent them in France as well as scout for potential models all over Europe. Dorian was so successful that she opened branches in London and Hamburg, Germany. She would trade her European models for Ford's American models and vice-versa.
In the early 1960s, Ford represented then-model Martha Stewart, who like Eileen, went to Barnard. Stewart modeled for a brief time in her early 20s, while in college, including for Chanel. In the 1970s, Stewart would cater parties and weddings with another former Ford model, Dorian Leigh, who was a cordon bleu level chef after retiring from the fashion industry.
On the twentieth anniversary of the Ford Agency in 1966, Jerry Ford told The New York Times that they were billing $100,000 per week and that they were the first modeling agency to have a computer system. They had 175 female and 75 male models that booked 70 percent of modeling jobs in New York City and 30 percent world-wide. Their top models in the 1960s included Wilhelmina Cooper (who would go on to run a successful modeling agency of her own in the 1970s, until her death from lung cancer due to heavy smoking in 1980, at age 40), Jean Shrimpton, Tilly Tizani, Sondra Peterson, Donna Mitchell, Ann Turkel, Agneta Frieberg, Ali MacGraw, and Candice Bergen.
In 1968, Eileen wrote the book, "Eileen Ford's Book of Model Beauty," which gave beauty, nutrition and exercise advice. The book also includes a biography and photos of Ford's most successful models from the 1950s and 1960s.
In the early 1970s, Ford was still the number one modeling agency in the world. They represented Jerry Hall, Christie Brinkley, Rene Russo, Kim Basinger, Janice Dickinson, Lisa Taylor, Bitten Knudsen, Lauren Hutton, and Karen Graham. Hutton and Graham were the earliest models to get exclusive make-up contracts with Revlon and Esteé Lauder. By 1977 however, John Casablancas, who started Elite, began to poach Ford's top models and her top booking agent, Monique Pillard. The Fords tried to sue Casablancas, and hired famed attorney Roy Cohn. The Fords also had to compete with several smaller modeling agencies, such as Wilhelmina, which represented late 1970s models Gia Carangi, Patti Hansen and Shaun Casey, who very briefly became Esteé Lauder's "face" in the early 1980s after Karen Graham retired.
During this time Ford Models expanded their agency. A successful Men's Division included Jeff Aquilon, Fabio, Tom Flemming and other top male models that dominated the pages of GQ magazine. In 1975 the Fords also started a Children's Division. In her Lifetime Intimate Portrait, Eileen said they started that division for a 9 year old Brooke Shields. Shields was already an established model when the Fords signed her. She shot her first national advertising campaign with Francesco Scavullo in 1966 for Ivory Soap. It was during that first year with Ford that she shot the infamous photos with photographer Garry Gross. According to court records, Brooke was paid $450 for the photo session.
By the late 1970s, the "model wars" between Elite and Ford was in full stride with top models going back-and-forth between Elite, Ford, and smaller agencies like Zoli, which represented Rachel Ward and Esmé Marshall. By this point, many top models were getting terrible reputations for drug use, staying out all night at Studio 54 and for being very unprofessional.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, Eileen said that several of Ford's models from the 1950s and 1960s had died from smoking and breast cancer. Some 1970s models had also died from drug use, and top photographers, tired of their behavior, refused to work with them any longer.
In 1981, the Fords began an international modeling competition called "Face of the 80s," later known as Ford Models Supermodel of the World.
By the mid-1980s, drug-addicted blonde models were out, and more professional, brunette-haired models such as Cindy Crawford, Renée Simonsen, Carol Alt, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington came on the scene. As a result, modeling fees rapidly accelerated and several models were making millions of dollars per year. Fashion editor Polly Mellen said, "The girls are getting rich, so rich." Turlington, at the age of 16, moved into Ford's townhouse during the summer of 1985, and would rapidly become one of the Ford's biggest successes ever. Twenty-five years later, Turlington still is a top model.
In 1993, Eileen said that her agency received 10,000 letters per year and 7,000 personal visits to her office. Out of these, she said, maybe only four or five are "really good ones (models)."
In 1995, the Ford's daughter Katie Ford, took over the agency after Eileen and Jerry ran it for 50 years. The 50th anniversary of the agency was highlighted in several articles including the July/August 1996 issue of American Photo magazine and in January/February 1997's Top Model magazine ("Ford at 50!"). She was CEO from 1995-2007.
In December 2007, Ford was sold to Stone Tower Equity Partners. John Caplan took over as CEO while Katie Ford was on the Board of Directors.
Jerry Ford, Eileen's husband of sixty-one years, died at the age 83 on August 24, 2008. He was survived by Eileen, his four children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Eileen's story has been told in Good Housekeeping in 1968, Life in November 1970 and Ladies Home Journal in 1971 among many others. She appeared in the 1997 film Scratch the Surface about a teen model turned documentary film-maker, Tara Fitzpatrick's examination of the clothing industry and in Intimate Portrait: Eileen Ford in 1999 and again in Celebrity Profile: Brooke Shields in 2001 and a profile of Christie Brinkley.
- EILEEN FORD'S BOOK OF MODEL BEAUTY by Eileen Ford. Published by Trident Press New York 1968
- Eileen Ford's a more beautiful you in 21 days by Eileen Ford. Published by Simon and Schuster, New York 1972. ISBN 978-0-671-21191-2
- "Beauty and the Bedlam," by Marion Hargrove, McCall's, April 1955, page 62.
- "Model," by Michael Gross, 1995, page 94.
- "Model," by Michael Gross, 1995, page 92.
- "Model," by Michael Gross, 1995, page 95.
- "Beauty and Bedlam," by Marion Hargrove, McCall's, April 1955, page 62.
- "Glamour," by David Schonauer, America Photo, July/August 1996, page 45.
- "The Girl Who Had Everything," by Dorian Leigh and Laura Hobe, 1980, page 67.
- "The Girl Who Had Everything," by Dorian Leigh and Laura Hobe, 1980, page 68.
- "Model," by Michael Gross, 1995, page 117.
- "Glamour," by David Schonauer, American Photo, July/August 1996, page 45.
- "Model," by Michael Gross, 1995, pages 123, 177.
- "Model," by Michael Gross, 1995, page 137.
- "Model," by Michael Gross, 1995, pages 138, 139, 140.
- "Model," by Michael Gross, 1995, page 200.
- "Model," by Michael Gross, 1995, page 350.
- "Model," by Michael Gross, 1995, page 418.
- "Ford's Famous X-Factor," American Photo, May/June 1993, page 72.
- Speers, W. "MODEL-AGENCY FORDS LOSE N. JERSEY HOME TO FIRE", The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 1993. Accessed March 29, 2008. "The fab North Jersey home of Gerard and Eileen Ford, owners of the fashion industry's most prestigious modeling agency, was pretty much totaled by fire Tuesday night. Nobody was hurt but a fire official said the Tewksbury Township home was 90 percent destroyed."
- "Jerry Ford, 83, Man Behind the Models, Dies," by Eric Wilson, The New York Times, August 26, 2008.
- Good Housekeeping Magazine 1968