Eileen Ford, who has died aged 92, had modelled while studying psychology at Barnard College, New York. She met Jerry, a wartime sailor, in a drugstore and romantically they eloped to San Francisco before he left to go back to the Pacific theatre of war. Eileen worked as a photographer’s assistant, stylist and fashion trade reporter, and began booking her modelling friends. When Jerry was demobilised they started to plan their business. It began in 1947 with a different ethos. Eileen oversaw many potential recruits in need of improvement, housing, feeding, grooming and educating her discoveries. There were other people and businesses around doing similar things but they were small-scale, unprofessional and unambitious. Eileen and Jerry paid their recruits a wage and looked after them so that they were not exploited and had much better job security.
The business prospered and the New York parent company opened offices around the world as fashion spread its wings. Eileen had an uncanny aptitude for having her finger on the coming pulse of what fashion wanted or needed and to diversify away from the classic look. Look at her list of recruits over the years: Jean Shrimpton,Veruschka von Lehndorff, Lauren Hutton, Candice Bergen, Rene Russo, Kim Basinger, Brooke Shields, Christie Brinkley, Martha Stewart, Jerry Hall, Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell.
Obviously as their model agency business prospered, imitators came into the industry and tried to emulate the Ford Agency’s success, often trying to lure their models away with higher fees or promises of better management. None managed to topple Eileen and Jerry’s business.
Jerry and Euileen’s marriage lasted until Jerry’s death in 2008. Eileen is survived by their children, Katie, Jamie, Lacey and Gerard.
Upion hearing the news many supermodels took to Twitter or sent in statements to express their sadness at Ford’s passing — read some of them below and you begin to see the positive impact they had on the individuals and on the fashion industry as a whole:
Christy Turlington Burns said
“I was fortunate to have worked in the industry at a time when legends like Eileen Ford were still reigning. Being a part of the Ford Agency when I began my career was truly special. I will always remember Eileen and her indomitable presence with fondness and gratitude.”
Carol Alt said:
“Eileen Ford was an icon in the business. She was an innovator and fiercely protective of her girls. I was so proud to be a Ford model and certainly counted Eileen as a friend and mentor. This for me is the end of an era as Eileen was the ground-breaking creator and designer of this industry as it is today.”
Christie Brinkley said:
“I was lucky to call Eileen Ford my agent. She was the best in the business. 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 through covers and contracts to places I never imagined like the Broadway stage! I was so proud that a true living legend had come to see me perform in the play “Chicago” and I wanted to do my best performance for her because it was the least I could do for someone who gave me the world. My heartfelt condolences and love to her cherished family.”