Fashion Icons of the 1970s – Famous Models of the 1970’s
Model agency mogul Eileen Ford of Ford Models died earlier this month at the age of 92—without a doubt, this woman (who founded her modeling agency with husband Jerry Ford in 1946) was the force behind decades of cover models, and many of the standards of beauty that have spanned the years.
By the 1970s, female fashion icons, were some to the top models of the time, or what we term today as “supermodels”—and Ford Models was behind many of the faces that became a household name. Beverly Johnson—really one of the most beautiful models ever in my opinion—is just one example. Although, to be fair, she signed with Ford, then left for Wilhemina Models when Eileen Ford told her she would never be on the cover of Vogue (and then came back to Ford Models once she had).
When Beverly Johnson first starter her career, she was met with all sorts of setbacks—agency after agency rejected her, until Ford Models decided she had potential. After she was told she would never make the cover of Vogue, Johnson left for Wilhemina Models and did just that in 1974, becoming the first African American to receive that honor. After she went back to Eileen Ford with that cover under her belt, Eileen took her success and ran with it—over the course of her career, Johnson was in over 500 magazines, and did runway shows for Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren, and many others.
Cheryl Tiegs, famous fashion icon of the 70s, was another well-known Ford model of the time. The quintessential California girl, Tiegs became well-known for her swimsuit work, but she started out at age sixteen, working for department stores for $25 a day. She got her first major campaign for a swimsuit ad when she was seventeen.
When 1970s fashion model Jerry Hall was sixteen, she bought a one-way ticket to France, reportedly spent the last of her money on a pink metallic crochet bikini and a pair of heels, and made her way to the St. Tropez beach—where she was discovered by photographer Jacques Silberstein. In 1974 Hall left Paris for New York, convinced to do so by none other than Eileen Ford (but it definitely paid off, because she soon landed a cover shoot for the cover of Vogue). (Sidenote: yes, I have read that Eileen Ford could be controversial, and yes modeling is a tough business in so many aspects of our social culture…but I bet Eileen Ford could convince anyone of anything had some great stories to show for it.)
Ford originally rejected 1970s model Janice Dickinson (for looking too “ethnic”—shame, Eileen), but Dickinson found success elsewhere, and ended up being a cover model for all the top fashion magazines. She would eventually call herself the word’s first supermodel and returned to Ford Models (this time with a contract). Some years ago she started her own modeling agency, and fashioned a reality television show around it (The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency—anyone else watch it and hate themselves a little bit for not being able to change the channel? No? Just me?).
Lauren Hutton was another modeling agency no go—she was told by other agencies that she was too old (22—eek), too short (5’7”, such a shortie!), and the gap between her teeth would never work. She was eventually picked up by Ford Models and in 1974 signed a huge contract with Revlon—she would be their spokesmodel for years, and became known as “the fresh American face of fashion.”
Models today are commonplace enough—everyone knows someone who’s “done some modeling” at one point or another. But in the 1970s, models were really at the forefront of women’s fashion—they were household names, and partially responsible for a large part of the beauty and fashion trends of the time period. The 1970s was a time when fashion magazines were increasing in popularity, and, in turn, models were reaping the benefits. Margaux Hemingway (note: not a Ford model) was the first model to receive a $1 million contract from the Babe fragrance company. The 1970s was really the birth of supermodel status (and whether you believe Janice Dickinson’s claim is up to you), and much of it has to do with Eileen Ford. Although I definitely have my qualms about the fashion industry and what it teaches women about their bodies and beauty, I will say this: Eileen Ford was a powerhouse, and she helped make the industry what it is today. So thanks, Eileen—hats off to you.
written by Heather Cox, Edited by Sarah Korsiak Cellier for Rice and Beans Vintage