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Paris Modeling Industry Has a Ford in Its Future

May 22, 1991

PARIS (AP) _ Expanding from its New York stronghold, Ford Models has become the first major American modeling agency to set up shop in Paris, the world’s fashion capital.

″It’s high time, too,″ said Katie Ford, daughter of the firm’s founders, who has taken on the task of running the new office under the arcades on the Rue de Rivoli.

Telephones outnumbers chairs in the office, opened only a few weeks ago.

″We feel France is more important than ever as a fashion center, and that Europe itself is vital because of the new situation in 1992,″ said Katie, 35.

The agency was founded 45 years ago by Jerry and Eileen Ford, eventually aided by three of their four children. Today Ford Models does an annual business of $42 million and represents some of the world’s most glamorous covergirls, including Jerry Hall, Lauren Hutton and Christy Turlington.

″Right now, our Paris office is handling some 50 models, about 20 of them new,″ said Katie.

A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College with an MBA from Columbia University, Katie moved to Paris with her toddler girl and a nanny to run her parents’ business. Leaving her husband, an entrepreneur and hotel owner, to run their Manhattan townhouse, she loves Paris, but plans to fly home often.

The Fords are all looking forward to finding more talent in Europe, and are often occupied with filming for their ″Supermodel″ annual TV show to find the ″faces of the ’90′s″

Most models with Ford these days are still American. ″But we’ve no prejudices,″ said Katie. ″The models must be at least 5-foot-9, tall, have excellent photogenic features, a straight nose, and so on.″

″I would look like a midget with today’s line-up,″ remarked 5-foot-5 Eileen, visiting her daughter on a business trip.

She remarked that ideal silhouettes have changed since from stick-like to fitter and more curvacious - ″but always slim.″

Top models can earn $1 million or so a year, and the average at Ford annually garner about $200,000.

″The hardest part is not long hours,″ Katie said. ″It is the start, getting your picture in magazines.″ She said girls should break into modeling at about age 17.

Wearing a sharp windowpane-check plaid suit by Bill Blass, Eileen avowed that ″I’m no model. I did it during summer holidays from Barnard College.″

That was in the mid-1940s. Then-Barnard graduate Eileen Otte met and eloped with Jerry, a Notre Dame football hero, two years her junior, who promptly went off to war.

Eileen had a few jobs, mainly in advertising and styling for fashion photography.

Through her work, she befriended many people in the fashion business, including some models.

After Jerry’s return in 1945, the young couple were both looking for work.

″I started taking model bookings for a few friends, and then Jerry got interested.″

They were off to the races, soon beating out old stalwarts. By 1948 were doing $250,000 worth of business annually.

″We were in the right place at the right time,″ she said. ″And those other agencies didn’t know or care about fashion, which I do enormously.″

At Ford, the scouts look at anybody’s picture who cares to send one in, ″even a family snapshot,″ said Eileen. ″Being sure to mark the particulars, like name, address, height, weight and age. Then, if we see hope, we contact the girls and make tests.″

They might not all make it up to the million-dollar Jerry Hall level. But it’s a sure thing that once Ford takes them in, the models are looked after as part of the family.

″We’ve got seven staying in our New York townhouse right now,″ said Eileen.

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