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Eileen Ford

Founder of model agency

Founder of model agency

Born: March 25, 1922; Died: July 9, 2014

Eileen Ford, who has died aged 92, was the founder of Ford, the most famous and influential modelling agency in the world. It launched and guided the careers of Jerry Hall, Grace Jones, Elle Macpherson, Naomi Campbell, Brooke Shields and Jean Shrimpton among many others.

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Ford herself was known for running the agency like a convent. There were strict rules, but there was also complete honesty with would-be models. Ford would tell any woman under 5ft 7in to give up their dreams; she would often also tell them to get a nose job and was upfront about weight as well. "The average would-be model weighs about 16 pounds more than she should," she once said.

It was an approach that attracted criticism and the accusation that the fashion industry was promoting an unhealthy ideal, but Ford was indifferent to her critics. The typical Ford woman was tall, thin, often blonde, with wide-set eyes and a long neck and the look changed remarkably little over the years. Height and a willowy build remain paramount, although Ford was disdainful of the waif look, typified by British model Kate Moss, which became popular in the early 1990s.

Born Eileen Otte in Manhattan, Ford was a model herself as a young woman although she graduated with a psychology degree from Barnard College. After graduating, she helped several friends book modelling jobs, which led to the idea of founding an agency in 1946 with her husband Jerry.

They opened an office in New York, with Mrs Ford doing the talent spotting and Mr Ford handling the practicalities such as pay.

Ford maintained that a model's charisma was as important as her looks, and prided herself on being able to detect successful personalities. "There's a cockiness to them. They're just going to be good and you can just tell it," she once said. "I see girls that I know - I absolutely know - will be star models within just a matter of weeks, and they always are."

For high fashion photography, she said, an ample bust was a disqualifier because the camera adds pounds and curves distract from the picture. "A bosom is terribly detrimental because it cuts you all up in pieces," she said.

Ford felt a motherly responsibility toward her models, often inviting the youngest to live at her Upper East Side apartment. She prohibited the young Kim Basinger from going out before finishing her French homework. Supermodel-to-be Christy Turlington once recalled pretending to do laundry at night so she could sneak out while the family slept.

"Models are a business and they have to treat themselves as a business," Ford said. "Which means they have to take care of themselves and give up all the young joys."

The Ford agency continued to grow in the 1970s, when it began representing children, including a young Brooke Shields, and men. By then, Christie Brinkley, Jane Fonda, Ali MacGraw, Candice Bergen, Beverly Johnson and Suzy Parker had all been on the Ford roster.

John Casablancas provided stiff competition for the Ford agency when he founded rival Elite in the 1970s. He became known for wooing talent from other agencies, resulting in lawsuits, and stressing a more sensual, European look.

Ford wrote several books including Eileen Ford's A More Beautiful You in 21 Days (1972) and Eileen Ford's Beauty Now and Forever: Secrets of Beauty After 35 (1977).

Their daughter Katie took over as CEO in 1995 but stepped down after the company was sold to an investment bank, Stone Tower Equity Partners, in 2007. Jerry Ford died in August 2008.

Ford is survived by her daughter Katie and three other children Jamie, Lacey and Gerard, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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