Model Woman: Eileen Ford and the Business of Beauty by Robert Lacey

Robert Lacey can always be guaranteed to write a “warts and all” biography. His portrait of Eileen Ford does not disappoint.

The Ford Modelling Agency , founded by Eileen and Jerry Ford, turned modelling into one of the most glamorous professions and made multi-millionaires of many beautiful women, as well as establishing the Fords as two of the foremost business entrepreneurs of their day.

Brought up in the security that a prosperous family offered her, Eileen was confident and self-assured all her life. She knew what she wanted and made sure she got it! This formidable woman saw the business possibilities modelling offered and seized the chance with both hands. She was just as directed in her choice of husband. From the moment she saw Gerry Ford when she “nearly fainted” at his good looks, he was hers.

Robert Lacey spent four years researching his subject and it shows. He describes clearly and interestingly how the Fords set up their business; how they chose their models; how they trained them and how they made their fortune. Others who tried to jump on the gravy train were, for a very longtime, ruthlessly shown the errors of their ways.

The author brings Eileen very much to life in his book. She was single-minded, outspoken, and aroused both loyalty, and extreme dislike in various people. To her “girls”, or at least the ones who allowed her to be their complete mentor, she was a protector who dealt with the problems of everyday life. To the people who opposed her, or who tried to set up a company against her, she was calculating, cold, and swift to exert her own form of justice. Even her husband had to endure her cruel comments and domineering attitude so it is no wonder that we read he had an affair with one of Eileen’s models.

Jerry Ford was obviously an asset to the firm. No one seems to have had a bad word to say against him. An honourable man, he championed Eileen at all times and his steadying influence must have been one reason why so many models affiliated themselves to the Ford Agency.

The little anecdotes the reader learns about the models themselves make interesting reading but Robert Lacey never loses the fact that Eileen herself is the subject of his book. I feel she was not a truly likeable person. Her sharp tongue offended and she never seemed to care about the effect her words or actions had on people. She placed herself first, her agency (possibly), second and her husband whom she dearly loved, third.

I suspect that Robert Lacey did not like Eileen Ford but he is scrupulously fair in his writing never allowing his own feelings to colour his account.

Eileen knew how to choose a model; she knew how to organise a successful modelling agency; she brought up a well-adjusted “model” family. What this book hints at is the fact that no one would want to use Eileen as a model human being, a fact she herself would not care a fig about.

I would recommend this book for its depth of research ; its uncompromisingly clear portrait of a focused, arrogant woman who achieved all she set out to achieve; its detailed lists of models who became household names; its fascinating account of modelling “wars”.

A great read for the biography aficionado.

Mary Anderson
Personal 5
Group 5

Model Woman: Eileen Ford  and the  Business of Beauty by Robert Lacey
978-0-06-210807-4|Harper Collins

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