Ford, Eileen (1922—)

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Ford, Eileen (1922—)

American entrepreneur who, with her husband, established the Ford Model Agency. Born Eileen Otte on May 25, 1922, in New York City; daughter of Nathaniel Otte and Loretta Marie (Laine) Otte; graduated from Barnard College, B.S., 1943; married Gerard William Ford, known as Jerry Ford (an entrepreneur), on November 20, 1944; children: Gerard William Ford, known as Bill Ford (president of Ford's licensing division); A. Lacey Ford (who married John Williams); M. Katie Ford (who married André Balazs); Margaret Ford, also known as Jamie Ford (who married Robert Craft).

Selected writings:

Eileen Ford's Book of Model Beauty, Eileen Ford's Secrets of the Model World, A More Beautiful You in 21 Days, and You Can Be Beautiful (1977).

Eileen Ford was born in New York City on May 25, 1922, the daughter of a wealthy Long Island couple, Nathaniel and Loretta Laine Otte . She credited her parents with giving her a strong dose of self-confidence. "My family believed I could do no wrong," she recalled. "That's probably why I have utter confidence in myself—even when I shouldn't have." A graduate of Barnard College, she had a brief modeling career before eloping with Jerry Ford, with whom she started the Ford Model Agency in their Manhattan walkup in 1948. The Fords revolutionized modeling by establishing standardized fees and acting as agents for models by collecting fees and handling bookings. Over the years, the agency grew into a multimillion-dollar business which also included the Fords' three children.

Eileen Ford's flair for spotting charismatic models was highly regarded in the industry; her discoveries include Lauren Hutton , Jean Shrimpton, Capucine, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen , Suzy Parker, Christie Brinkley, Jerry Hall, Cheryl Tiegs, Brooke Shields, Ali Mac-Graw, Penelope Tree, Christy Turlington, and Rachel Hunter . Described in People Weekly as "part pit bull, part den mother and all business," Ford was known to mother her models and frequently took teenager models into her home if she felt they were not mature enough to handle New York City on their own. Ford, who "often slouched through the corridors of high fashion with her hem unraveling," notes People Weekly, unabashedly accepted her role as an arbiter of beauty and style, and claimed that American women—particularly those of her generation—meant a great deal to her. "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." Of her husband and long-time business partner, she said: "He's the brains, I'm the noise."

In 1995, to the surprise of many, the Fords assumed the title of co-chairs and handed the agency over to their middle daughter Katie Ford . "We were getting old," Ford said. "What were we going to do, let her be like Prince Charles and wait for us to die?" Katie increased the staff by 15%, moved the agency downtown, added an on-line service, and created a more culturally diverse stable of models. "The definition of beauty is much broader today," said Katie. "The ideal American is no longer considered Swedish."

sources:

Blackwell, Earl. Celebrity Register. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1990.

"Katie Ford," in People Weekly. September 8, 1997.

Martin, Jean, ed. Who's Who of Women in the Twentieth Century. Greenwich, CT: Brompton Books, 1995.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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