Fashion: In the driving seat of the American Dream: A Ford model used to be a way of getting from A to B. Now it's a byword for creating images and making millions, says Marion Hume

MENTION the name 'Ford' to an American schoolgirl and she is just as likely to think in terms of models (fashion models, that is) as cars. Ford, Eileen not Henry, started a model agency in 1946 and she now enjoys a place alongside that other Ford for her contribution to the American dream.

Eileen Ford, who has just handed over the reins of what is now the world's biggest model agency, billing in excess of dollars 42m (pounds 27m) a year, is as significant for her contribution to promoting fashion's image as many designers are for their clothes.

She set up the agency as a stopgap, looking after a couple of model friends while she was pregnant. By the time her first child was born she had 12 girls on her books and a reputation for sending the right girl to the right job and getting the right amount of money for both model and agency in the process.

Before Ford, modelling was something society girls did until they married and poor girls did but were hardly ever paid for - Lauren Bacall thought she was lucky the day she earned dollars 25.

After Ford, modelling became a career. This was the time when Seventh Avenue, centre of the American garment business, was growing beyond its 'second sister to Paris' status and becoming the confident, American fashion business. It needed faces to sell its clothes - Ford found them.

At the same time, the highly competitive and lucrative American beauty business had emerged. And beauty, too, needed faces. It got them in the shape of Suzy Parker, the Ford girl of the late Fifties and early Sixties; then Lauren Hutton, who won a dollars 400,000 contract from Revlon in the mid-Seventies.

And America, and beyond, needed cover girls to sell increasing numbers of women's magazines. Jean Shrimpton came from London to Ford, then there was Jerry Hall, then Brooke Shields . . .

The current Ford star, Christy Turlington, has moved beyond the one big contract, thanks to Ford negotiations which sold - separately - her smell (Calvin Klein Eternity), her skin (Camay soap) and her make-up (Maybelline).

'We are looking to sign Christy's hair,' says Ford negotiator Joey Hunter, who joins Marion Smith, head of the female model division, and Eileen's daughter, Katie, as the new co-chairmen of the company.

With her national 'Girl searches' - which have now become 'Supermodel of the World' searches - and the strict terms and conditions she introduced, Eileen Ford turned cheesecake into a respectable industry, just as other American industries that rely on image were themselves taking on the world. They knew they had conquered it when their products, and the Ford faces that went with them, started to become international household names. Each model pays the agency 20 per cent - and the client pays the same percentage on top.

The perceived glamour of modelling has now overtaken that of the movies - once the destination of many models including Ali MacGraw, Kim Basinger, Cybill Shepherd and Sharon Stone. Now actresses want to be models and growing numbers are taking a turn on the catwalk. Ford has established a celebrity division. Sofia Coppola and Iona Skye are already signed to advertise Donna Karan's DKNY line; Sandra Bernhard is on the books, as is Steven Seagal, the muscle-bound actor of Under Seige, who, Hunter predicts, will soon be promoting 'soft drinks, or maybe milk, or a fragrance'.

Ford receives 10,000 letters each year from unknowns, sees 7,000 young hopefuls, signs 100, makes careers for 30 (including the unsung but wealthy catalogue queens) and makes stars of no more than three a year.

Some models complain that it is like a strict finishing school; certainly in the Seventies it lost out to racier practices when John Casablancas opened Elite, now Ford's main competitor. In 1977 Casablancas poached two top bookers and the financial controller from Ford. Eileen sent them copies of the Bible with Jesus's words to Judas underlined in red and then lodged a dollars 7.5m lawsuit. She lost, prompting stories of Ford girls being banned from going to the nightclub Studio 54, a Casablancas hangout, in case they didn't come back. Some went and didn't.

Not that Eileen has always been an angel. She has stood accused of poaching from smaller agencies and Casablancas has described her as 'a snake with seven heads - you cut off six and she still has one there to bite you with'.

Rivals are bad enough, but fake Ford reps are much harder to handle. The FBI was called in after girls were promised stardom by seedy individuals posing as Ford scouts.

Under its new chiefs, Ford plans to promote its name around the world. It already has offices in New York, Miami, Paris, Tokyo and Sao Paulo. Katie Ford wants the family business of beauty to go global.

Eileen Ford in the Forties and today (inset), who started her modelling agency as a 'stopgap' in 1946. Today it is the world's biggest. Ford receives 10,000 letters each year from unknowns and makes careers for just 30, of whom no more than three will become stars. Top faces the agency has represented include: (clockwise from top right): Jean Shrimpton, Jerry Hall, Brooke Shields, Ali MacGraw, Suzy Parker, Cybill Shepherd and the young Jane Fonda.

(Photographs omitted)

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

    £32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam