Christie Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs, Jean Shrimpton, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell: Name a famous model, and more likely than not, she was once represented by Eileen Ford, who started her eponymous modeling agency with husband Jerry in 1947 and built it into an international powerhouse.
In the fascinating Model Woman, author Robert Lacey paints Ford as an intriguing paradox. She was a ruthless businesswoman about whom rival John Casablancas once said, “I will fight. I will never sleep with both eyes closed as long as that woman is around.” She was a woman uncomfortable with her own history, whitewashing her Jewish heritage and erasing an impetuous early marriage from her biography. And she was a motherly figure who raised four successful children and many of her models to live with her family as they came to New York as mere teens.
“She kept an eye out for me, and because she did, I think other male agents and photographers were more careful around me, more respectful,” Turlington said. “Every young model should have such protection.”
Ford, who died in 2014 at the age of 92, broke new ground in the modeling industry again and again. She was an early adopter of the practice of international scouting, plucking leggy blondes from obscurity in Scandinavia. She also was shrewd in the art of brand-building, launching a makeup line in the 1960s and writing a monthly beauty advice column that was syndicated nationwide. She and Jerry helped negotiate some of the earliest long-term makeup contracts, signing Lauren Hutton with Revlon for a record-setting $200,000 in 1973.
Lacey highlights the heady world of New York City modeling: The drug-fueled nights at Studio 54 in the 1970s, which Ford likened, not flatteringly, to the last days of the Roman Empire. The 1980s, when, “at one stage . . . every member of the pop group Duran Duran had a girlfriend who was on the books with Ford.” The 1990s, when supermodels danced in George Michael videos and didn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day.
Model Woman is a wholly entertaining, insightful and slightly bitchy look inside the moneyed world of modeling.