Making It: Supermodels on the Rise

August 19, 2015

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We’ve all heard stories about well-known models and their lucrative careers. At the very top there’s 33-year-old Gisele Bündchen, the world’s highest-paid model who, according to Forbes magazine, earned a whopping $47 million in 2013. Put another way, the New York Post recently broke this figure down to $128,000 a day or $5,333 per hour.

Adea model, Lealyn, getting ready for shoot

This is where we are in 2015 but years ago, modeling as a career was entirely different. This subject is discussed in a fascinating piece that appeared in the Financial Times, July 11/12, 2015, in the form of a review of the book, Model Women: Eileen Ford and the Business of Beauty by Robert Lacey. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

FORD AS A BEGINNER She grew up on Long Island in the 1920s when the beauty industry was in its infancy. As an adult she established her own modeling agency in 1946 and quickly noticed that her competitors were poorly organized: models were not paid for months on end – and sometimes not at all.

Working with her husband, Jerry, she established business codes for modeling agencies. (This is one of the few professions where women are far better paid than men.) In this insightful biography Lacey describes Eileen Ford as a “mixture of Mary Tyler Moore and Barbara Walters – but tougher.”

Eileen Ford and her husband, Jerry

FORD AS A PIONEER Lauren Hutton, who Ford made one of the top earners of the 1970s and 1980s says, “Eileen threw a huge cloak of safety over the girls in her care, and that made her, in my book, a great changer for the sake of women.” Ford had her models stay in her townhouse in Manhattan. She also took them to the ballet and opera, and to her country house for weekends.

From the 1940s to the 1990s, when the Fords retired, each decade at the agency was defined by models at their zenith: Suzy Parker and Dovima in the 1950s – right up to the present with Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell.

FORD AS A FIGHTER For 25 years Ford was the top agency in the United States. But in the 1970s a competitor arrived in the form of John Casablancas and his Elite agency. Ford stressed the classic, all-American look but Casablancas said that, “Fashion is all about sex. Girls are objects of desire and they know it.” 

Elite seduced many girls into leaving Ford by reducing its commission and stealing Fords’ chief booker and financial controller. So Eileen Ford retaliated by sending bibles to former employees with passages referring to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus underlined in red. Lacey describes the ensuing and often vicious fight for dominance with relish.

FORD AS A GAME CHANGER Ford made modeling respectable and lucrative. At her funeral in 2014, her daughter Katie observed, “My mother had a plan for everyone. Ask and she would tell you. Don’t ask and she would tell you anyway.” 

MAY WE SUGGEST…

September and Labor Day always feel more like a new beginning than the traditional New Year in January. So why not take a close look at your wardrobe and freshen it up with our layering tops, lingerie or T-shirts.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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