Eileen Ford, whose agency spawned the supermodel phenomenon, dies

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 9:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 9:07pm

Eileen Ford, the founder of the Ford Models who promoted the fresh-faced look of American women and initiated the phenomenon of supermodels, has died at the age of 92.

Ford succumbed on Wednesday from complications from meningioma and osteoporosis, the agency said.

Since starting the Manhattan agency with husband Jerry in 1946, Ford showed an eye for talent, discovering Candice Bergen in the 1960s and Lauren Hutton in the 1970s, and then the precocious young Brooke Shields as a child.

"Eileen's contributions to the modelling and fashion industries are unmatched," Ford Models said, announcing her death.

"She founded Ford Models 68 years ago and due to her unwavering passion, curiosity and drive, grew Ford into one of the world's most prestigious agencies."

Born and raised in New York, Ford was a model while a student, and also worked in photography, fashion and as a fashion reporter. She and Jerry would often have young models stay at their house to start out.

When she started her business in the late 1940s - after a brief stint as a model herself - models were generally unrepresented and expected to negotiate their wages. Most were poorly paid, if at all. Many worked part- time and were vulnerable to exploitation by advertisers and photographers.

"There were model agencies, but one of the owners would go to jail, and I thought a different kind of agency was needed. One you could trust," she said in 1988. Along with her husband, she set out to build an agency that would champion young models and command professionalism. Their New York-based company - which began in a Second Avenue walk-up - became known in the industry as fair and ethical.

The Fords were credited for helping to make modelling a lucrative profession by pushing for payment not for a day or hour, but rather for the usage of the model's work, and for signing models to exclusive contracts for specific brands.

That economic foundation spawned the high-paid celebrity supermodels of the 1980s, when Ford Models was at its peak. Ford represented a few of them herself, including Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Elle Macpherson.

She was also fond of models who radiated a wholesome look, such as Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley, who embodied beauty in the United States for years.

"American women mean a great deal to me," Ford told People magazine in 1983. "They're such lost souls, particularly the women of my generation."

Jerry Ford died in 2008. The couple had four children, including daughter Katie Ford, who became chief executive of Ford Models in 1995. The agency was sold in 2007, to Stone Tower Equity Partners, which has since been renamed Altpoint Capital.