Eileen Ford, a savvy businesswoman who co-founded Ford Models with her husband, Jerry, in 1946 and was an unapologetic arbiter of pulchritude, mores and taste, died Wednesday at 92.
“The grande dame of the modeling industry … influenced standards of beauty for more than four decades while heading one of the most recognizable brands in the trade of gorgeous faces,” writes Eric Wilson in the New York Times.
She is “credited with inventing the modern modeling business and in the process launching the careers of supermodels such as Lauren Hutton, Christie Brinkley and Naomi Campbell,” writes NPR’s Scott Neuman — not to mention Cheryl Tiegs, Ali MacGraw, Margaux Hemingway, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Kim Basinger, Rachel Hunter and Brooke Shields, among others.
“Young women flocked to her agency — which promoted itself as the largest — partly because it paid reliably and enforced high moral standards in an industry that had a reputation for exploiting its workers,” reports Bloomberg’s Stephen Miller.
“Famed for her encouraging and nurturing approach — she was infamous for standing up for her clients' best interests — she frequently invited models that had just arrived in New York to live with herself and Jerry so that she could help them adjust to life in the Big Apple,” writes Scarlett Kilcooley-O'Halloran in British Vogue.
“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,” Robert Lacey, author of the forthcoming Ford biography Model Woman, tellsPeople’s Tim Nudd.
She also had definitive views on beauty, and did not rely on head shots or referrals to find it. “Sometimes she would follow a young woman for a few blocks, appraising her (and, after drawing close enough, usually walking away),” writes the New YorkTimes’ Wilson.
“Ford favored young, tall blondes — the willowy Nordic types who dominated modeling for decades,” Miller writes, quoting her: “I create a look and I create a style.”
But she also had an eye for changing tastes and demographics.
“In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1980, Ford talked about her views of the industry, predicting the ‘preoccupation with the 12- and 13-year-old look will pass quickly,’” writes the Times’ Javier Panzar. “She also accurately predicted that 20 years down the road the business would see a shift to models staying active much longer because the “buying power will be with people in their 50s and 60s.”
Such as Christie Brinkley, who “posted a photo of her and Ms. Ford on her Instagram account, saying Ms. Ford was ‘the best in the business,’” reports the AP’s Beth J. Harpaz. “She saw something in me and with her brilliant business acumen, her knowledge, experience, and personal touch, she took me from Malibu surfer girl and guided my career.”
Beverly Johnson, the first black woman to be featured on the cover of Vogue, tweeted “Eileen Ford of the great Ford Modeling Agency passed yesterday.”
Ford once said, according to a quote posted on the Ford Models’ homepage this morning along with telling photographs from her truly glamorous career (and loving relationship with Jerry): “You never know when or where you will find the next new model, but you can bet someone from Ford Models will be looking.”
The modeling agency’s revenues were $40 million annually by the 1990s, reports NPR’s Neuman, “but by 1995, Ford and her husband faded to the background, elevating daughter Kate Ford to the CEO role.” The company was sold to Stone Tower Equity Partners, now called Altpoint Capital Partners, in 2007. Jerry Ford — “The Last Decent Guy in a Creepy Industry,” a Gawker hed claimed — died in 2008 at 83.
She is survived by three other children: Jamie Ford Craft, Lacey Williams and Gerard William “Billy” Ford Jr., as well as eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A statement released to People yesterday by Kate said:
“Eileen loved Jerry and her family and her friends, as well as Le Cirque, football, ballet, bellini's, Benny Goodman, “21”, books on history, the New York Post and The New York Times, Seinfeld, The Stork Club, her flower garden, The Ritz in Paris, champagne and caviar; great food and deli; Harry's Bar in Venice, Frank & Ella, Aquavit, Quogue, Fairfield, Oldwick, the townhouse on 78th Street, beautiful models, photographers, fashion, Fred Astaire, and life in general.”