Eileen Ford, the godmother of the modelling industry, has died at the age of 92. She had been hospitalized last week after suffering a fall at her New York apartment.
The industry pioneer, known for her steely professionalism and discipline, set up Ford Models with her late husband Jerry in 1946 and established her agency into a groundbreaking international success in a few short years. Thanks to her keen eye and careful guidance, countless women were transformed into supermodels – iconic names who benefited from Ford's early tutelage include Veruschka, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Elle Macpherson.
Jerry may have handled the business side of the agency, but Ford was the powerhouse behind Ford Models. She was the face of the brand, often acting as a talent scout for its greatest successes. "I see girls that I know – I absolutely know – will be star models within just a matter of weeks, and they always are," she told Life magazine. The Ford look – wide-eyed and blonde – went on the define beauty standards of an American generation, and set an industry standard that exists to this day.
Ford also elevated the modelling industry and worked ceaselessly to improve working conditions for models. According to Robert Lacey, author of her forthcoming biography Model Woman, Ford helped move the business away from ad hoc payment by the hour or day to the concept of payment by "usage", laying the foundations for the well-paid and high-profile campaigns that eventually led to the rise of the supermodel.
The tastemaker was also fiercely protective of the models in her stable. She allowed her youngest hires to live in her Upper East Side townhouse so she could keep a watchful eye on them; she once barred the young Kim Basinger from going out until she finished her French homework. "They have to account for their time to me,” she said in a Forbes article in 1984. “They eat dinner with me, at table, every night. I don’t ever want to tell a mother I don’t know where her daughter is at 2am."
But Ford sometimes did get it wrong – her list of rejected models includes Grace Kelly and Marisa Berenson, who went on to cover Vogue. And while her idea of classic, all-American beauty was later subsumed by the waifish look in the 90s, the modelling standards unapologetically pioneered by Ford (read: tall, small-busted and willowy) are still de rigueur today.
"Eileen's contributions to the modeling and fashion industries are unmatched," Ford Models said in a statement today. "We are incredibly proud and grateful for her revolutionary spirit and the values she instilled in Ford Models."
Follow Zing Tsjeng on Twitter here @misszing
Have some news? Let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org