Eileen Ford, who co-founded Ford Models with her late husband Jerry in 1946, has died at age 92. Ford has been credited for “inventing” the modern modeling business, and was taken to the hospital last week after suffering a fall in her New York City apartment. No further information on her death has been released.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Her Death Was Announced By Her Daughter Katie
Her daughter told People:
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.
She was interested in everyone, and truly LOVED her husband of 64 years, Jerry, and her children, Jamie, Billy, Katie and Lacey, and her brothers Tom, Bill, and Bobby, and her grandchildren Tiger, Gerard, Jamie, Gered, Alessandra, Isabel, Will and Emma (and her adored five great grandchildren).
Katie took over the business in 1995, after her parents successfully ran it for fifty years. In 2007, when it was sold to Stone Tower Equity Partners, Katie remained on the board of directors while John Caplan took over the company as CEO. Katie is one of Ford’s four children.
2. She Started Ford Models With Her Late Husband Jerry
In 1944, one year after graduating from Barnard, Ford met her husband, Jerry, at a drugstore near Columbia University. She married him in November of the same year before he went off to fight in WWII.
After being inspired by Dorian Leigh, who created the voucher system that booked models their jobs, Ford began working for several models as a secretary. She started charging them $65-$75/month for her time, and when Jerry returned from war in 1946, the couple decided to start their own agency. Within the first year, Ford Models was one of the most successful agencies in the US.
In 2010, Ford told The New York times:
I create a look and I create a style. American girls mean a great deal to me. I help them understand how they can look better.
Jerry Ford died in 2008 at age 83. The couple had been married for sixty-one years.
Jerry was responsible for the business side of the agency, while Eileen dealt directly with the talent. She was raised in Long Island with three brothers, and was extremely pampered as a child. She told People,
My family believed I could do no wrong. That’s probably why I have utter confidence in myself—even when I shouldn’t have. I got everything I wanted from my parents: Brooks Brothers sweaters and Spalding saddle shoes. None of the people I grew up with had identity problems. We all had perfectly marvelous lives.
3. She Helped Manage Ali MacGraw, Brooke Shields, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Rachel Hunter
In 1983, Ford told People that she runs her business on instinct.
Most of our models have just walked in off the streets, although I also find them on countless trips to Europe—particularly Scandinavia. I operate by instinct. It’s a process I cannot explain, but the prettiest girl on the block is not always the best model.
Ford focused on cultivating her models’ mentality, and was known for housing her talent if they came from overseas or had no place else to stay. She demanded respect from her models, but was also seen as a mother figure to them.
Robert Lacey, who wrote a biography on Ford called Model Woman, wrote:
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 she worked to improve models’ working conditions and wages, moving away from payment by the hour or day to the concept of payment by ‘usage,’ which laid the economic basis for the phenomenon of the supermodel.
4. She Modeled During College
During the summers of her freshman and sophomore years at Barnard College, Ford modeled for the Harry Conover agency.
Throughout her career, Ford was known for being “appallingly blunt”. People reported an instance when a woman slightly too old for the modeling business tried to persuade Ford that she was still cut out for it. Ford responded by saying,
Oh, you’re 25? Well, the best you can do is go to Europe and look for a husband.
5. She Represented Jane Fonda
A 1983 article in People Magazine details a scenario in which Jane Fonda forgot that Eileen Ford ever represented her.
“Hello, Jane,” Eileen greeted a former model a few years back.
“Do I know you?” wondered the woman.
“I used to be your agent.”
“Oh, really?” replied Jane Fonda. “And when was that?”
The article goes on to claim that despite Fonda forgetting her, Eileen was well aware of the impact she’s had on many girls lives. She believed that the women of her generation needed help, and that she was destined to help them.
American women…they’re such lost souls, particularly the women of my generation. And women need so much help. They never have anyone to turn to. I help them understand how they can look better, how to do this, do that, get a job. And they’re very trusting. Like little lost kids.