Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ford Models

Last week, we solicited your questions for John Caplan, the president of Ford Models. Amidst all the Fashion Week furor, he took the time to answer.

Q: Have models truly gotten smaller over the past, let’s say, 30 years? Is it a result of demands from designers, editors, and/or advertisers, or did it start with the kinds of models that scouts have been signing?

A: I really believe that designers, editors, and the entertainment industry drive the body image ideal. We develop and manage models that are healthy, and should our models develop any health problems, we work with the models to solve them. If we sign models that clients don’t want, then they don’t work; so our incentive is to find talent that meets the criteria of our clients.

Q: Recently, we’ve seen the practice of importing models from places in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Many are very young, come from impoverished countries and face reported threats of exploitation. Does your agency employ the practice of importing such models? If so, what safeguards do you have in place to protect their rights as workers?

A: The reality is that living conditions in some third world countries are awful. We try to recruit great models and give them the opportunity to develop careers. Later, when they become successful, many of them work to improve the living conditions for their families back home. As for protecting their rights, we are very vigilant about ensuring that our models are paid by and work for reputable clients.

Q: Why do Ford and other agencies put commercial interests above the health of teenage models? Why encourage a fifteen year-old girl to diet down to a size zero when, as an adult, you know that such behavior is unhealthy, even dangerous? Do you think that adults should take some responsibility for the choices made by kids, and that it is irresponsible to encourage teenage models to over-diet?

A: Parents, teachers, agents, and clients all share responsibility for the health and well-being of models, particularly those that are underage. Ford doesn’t ever encourage models to “diet down to size zero.” That’s just not how Ford works.

Q: As a freelance Web designer/developer, I’m curious what role personal Web sites play in the careers of upcoming models and actors. Would you say such sites are necessary for aspiring models? Do they make things easier for industry professionals such yourself? How would you advise models asking you about the value of a personal site?

A: The Internet has become an important marketing tool for the talent we represent. We have a big group on staff dedicated to developing these tools. Web video casting and personal profile pages help clients across the globe get comfortable with talent, and allows them cast virtually. Our TV destination and distribution relationships with YouTube, MySpace, iVillage, and Verizon, among others, help to market our talent. In fact, a number of advertisers have seen our videos and then sought content and talent sponsorship agreements.

Q: There is a branch in psychology that studies the appreciation of beauty. Researchers have developed quantitative measures, such as length of nose relative to width of chin. My question is twofold: a) Does your agency systematically follow that research? b) Do you use such measurements to estimate an applicants potential in the market, or do you rely on your feelings and experience?

A: We rely on the experience of our scouts, talent managers and clients to develop the new faces we represent. In my opinion, beauty that is defined exclusively by metrics is like a painting that is created to appeal to the broadest market: dull.

Q: How would you rank criteria such as facial features, body shape, poise and hair when choosing a model, regardless of designer?

A: Designers and their casting agents make selections for talent based upon overall look, attitude, movement and personality. They are seeking talent that helps to bring to life the vision and creativity of their collections.

Q: Has the recent surge in reality shows about modeling and the fashion industry (i.e. America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, etc.) affected the quality or quantity of your models or applicants?

A: The shows are purely entertainment and produced with that in mind. They haven’t had any impact on the quality of the talent we represent, nor have the shows developed or discovered stars. We do see thousands of people applying every day to us via our Web site. An aspiring model knows that, if he or she is signed to Ford, he or she is more likely to work in the industry.

Q: Do you think the rise in popularity of “candid,” “real-life” fashion Web sites such as The Sartorialist and Facehunter will affect what constitutes a model in terms of appearance?

A: I think they are terrific Web sites and that they offer really interesting ways to observe the means in which individual style is created every day. They have no impact on talent selection, though.

Q: I’m a 24-year-old model based in Toronto right now. Most models’ careers seem to peak at a much younger age. Have I missed the boat, or there still a chance to have a successful modeling career? Secondly, do you think there will be a “return of the supermodel,” or will most models always remain anonymous, nameless faces?

A: Generally models begin their careers when they are 16 to 20 years old. You can always apply at our Web site, and one of our scouts will review your materials.

As for your second question, I do believe that society is getting tired of the unpredictable behavior of celebrities, and therefore supermodels will return.

Q: How did you become involved in the modeling industry, and what are you suggestions for getting started as a booker, agent, etc., in the industry at a young age?

A: I joined Ford after working on the team that built About.com. I was ultimately president of the About Network (which is now owned by The New York Times Company). To get a job and start at Ford, we have a terrific intern program in each of our offices, and bookers frequently get their start assisting in one of the divisions.

Q: What percent of non-models in the industry (management, etc.) used to be models themselves? What do models usually do when they retire?

A: Very few models become agents. Many move on to entertainment and acting, while others go on to production, design, and photography.

Q: In your opinion, how did Ford rise to the top of the market (and stay there for decades) despite the heavy competition and fast-paced industry trends?

A: Culturally, we’re focused on innovation, client and talent service, and teamwork. In addition, the breadth and depth of the talent we represent, our global geography, the introduction of integrated service offerings, our proprietary technology, our branding, and our reputation have all contributed to our consistent results over the past six decades. Most importantly, we represent the right talent, and employ the best managers in the industry.

Q: Would you encourage your own daughter (or son) to become a model?

A: Yes, if she wants to. She’s only two right now, so she’s got some time to grow before she’s ready.

Q: Can a moderately fit, six-foot-tall economist with slightly above-average looks and slightly above-average body hair make it as a model? Just curious.

A: Anything is possible.


Joske Vermeulen

What a bunch of cookie-cutter, 'run it past pr first' answers. I understand that it's hard for you to select people who will give insightful, interesting answers, but please not too much of this :/

(Don't take this the wrong way, I love the rest of the blog, although I'm still bitter about the feed ;) )

EB

I've had family members on the inside of Ford. This is the biggest load of BS I've seen shovel since... since...

Since Bush said he'd defend the constitution!

I will say this though, if anyone wants to hire an intelligent young woman who will always get the job done, hire a model. Those young ladies are just unbeatable!

Jason

My favorite answer is: "I do believe that society is getting tired of the unpredictable behavior of celebrities, and therefore supermodels will return."

Because people like Naomi Campbell are completely reliable and predictable ...

Toni

Agreed. All of these answers could have been read to you by the maintenance person from their company annual report.

Dan O'Hanlon

These are non-answers.

Q: ...If so, what safeguards do you have in place to protect [foreign models'] rights as workers?

A: ...As for protecting their rights, we are very vigilant about ensuring that our models are paid by and work for reputable clients.

I like these Q&A sessions, but maybe you should stick to people who are willing to answer the questions you ask.

Otto

Not quite the sizzle the other Q&A's had.
Thanks and keep up the good work.

Nathaniel

Yeah, this could have been interesting, but ultimately it was just a bunch of corporate-speak with no meaning whatsoever. You could have gotten these exact same answers from someone working in the mailroom -- there was no need for the President of the company to go out of his was to cut and paste what his PR people wrote into a whole new email.

Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

Hey! Hey! Hey! I do NOT see any answers to *my* most excellent questions! (Did I miss them)? Shame on you, Mr. Ford. How's a girl with knock knees, a lantern jaw, pigeon-toes, who's also dumpy, short and (sadly) has the regrettable condition of having all of my inner organs on the outside of my body Supposed to prosper at all in the modeling field if she can't even get a few straight answers from one of the head hunchos???

Really, if you Had to dash my dreams by telling me that I can Not be a model, (did I mention my age? It's 86 but I only look 55), I Could have delt with the blow (yet, one more, o, cruel world) Much better than this tragic and cruel ignoring of my questions.

Besides, my anorexia is coming along nicely. I'm down to two celery stalks a day, 3 raisins and a dash of Dr. Pepper (for variety). Oh well, I guess I'll still continue it, even if I can't model. Dubner and Levitt are bound to get some famous ballet company director on board to answer questions, someday, so, best to be ready. Onward!

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Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

Oops, I actually meant to address all the above to Mr. Caplan, not Mr. Ford. Yes, well, shame on you *too*, Mr. C. Very naughty of you not to answer my questions. Believe me, you have to See my beauty (or, uh, *experience* it, since much of it is firmly of the inner sort) to know what I mean when I say (without any of that disgusting and completely overrated false modesty) that I am a stunner of rare degree. *Sniff*. So, there! You just missed your best chance for snagging the SuperModel of the Cosmos.

DC

People are being negative, but this is just how these things go. They can't all be awesome interviews, and I did learn a bit from the interview that I didn't know before.

I suspect that there was some discussion before publishing this, and I think they made the right decision in putting it up there without any editorial comments, to stand on its own merits.

Keep up the good work, and thanks for continuing to look for interesting discussions to bring to our attention.

AK

These responses were a great disappointment.

CynthiaC

Gosh! Had I known about thie Q&A, I would have asked him how agencies react to non-standard sized designers. I know that some agencies have plus divisions, but often, they pad up a regular-slim sized girl (i.e. 5'10" and size 8) so she could fit into size 14. Of course, the fashion media completely ignores anyone who is below, say, 5'7" (for females, anyway), so asking about petites (which is what I do as an activist) is completely out of the question!

http://shorty-stories.blogspot.com

nobody.really

Here's an economist blog about new Ford models. The first question addresses whether the newer models have gotten smaller over the past 30 years, and whether this reflected the preferences of designers or advertisers. The answer discusses the image of the new model's bodies....

Was I the only one thinking we were discussing cars here?

Antoine

Fist of all, a lot of these answers read like canned customer service e-mails. They sound robotic and practiced, with no thought or interest in satisfying the curious public. I'm sure that if you e-mailed an inquiry to Ford Models, you'd get the same responses sent to you.

Second, regarding shows like "America's Next Top Model," Caplan says:

"The shows are purely entertainment and produced with that in mind. They haven't had any impact on the quality of the talent we represent, nor have the shows developed or discovered stars."

But he neglects to mention that a part of the prize package for one of the ANTM seasons was a contract with Ford Models. The shows may be for entertainment only, but it didn't seem to stop Ford from catching any crumbs that may fall. While there are variables that factor into a model's success, Ford itself failed to have the "impact" to develop stars with a winner who had national exposure even before signing with them. Sorry, dear chap, but you can't look down your nose at the model/fashion reality show phenomenon if you participate in it.

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Norma

What an interesting topic and all the questions, answers and comments are interesting as well.
My take is that all of this is driven by the collective consciousness of humanity. The world is shrinking. We,in the west, are becoming more conscious of other parts of the world. The fatter we get, the more interesting the juxtaposition of emaciation. The more unobtainable and elite it appears. (think back to cultures where everyone was starving and the fat person was beautiful)The image I get is of the boiling masses somehow bubbling up the icon, in this case the young, fresh, NEW (our favorite word)person who represents an ideal that is extreme by necessity to succeed. The designer thinks it is all about him, the model thinks it is all about her, the agent, is simply a broker. The client, always, is the collective consciousness which we all serve.

barbara

No, the reason they use emaciated or bone-thin models is because they are *easier* to design for. If a woman has any extra on her body, be it boobs or hips, suddenly the garment can gather, bunch or wrinkle and expose any design flaws.

That's why most designers don't do plus-size, not because they're disgusted by chunky women (which they sometimes espouse as not being "high-fashion") but because they lack the talent to to make anyone other than a very thin woman look good in their clothes.

Put pressure on the designers to be better.

Dr. Gulag

Oh, *that* Ford.

I thought maybe there was some interesting data about my Mustang. :)

VikramAdith

I was disappointed by the first answer, and it didn't get any better. Looks like everyone else thinks the same.

And I hate it when people do wrong things and justify it by claiming that they are just supplying the demand.

LD

I, too, read the blurb in the feed and thought the article would be about cars. Perhaps because I drive a Ford, the modeling agency was not my first association. . . ah, branding. . .

Sonora

Wow, what a sad man. It's got to be hard to live a life you can't be honest about. Those answers were untruthful at best. Size zero is terribly unhealthy. Women who are a size zero have such a deficiency in body fat that they 1) have no menstrual cycles and 2) have no short term memory. I hope he's more forthcoming to his daughter so she stays away from that. Of course if young women opt out of having menstrual cycles and children via starvation, I suppose they also wouldn't remember it then, would they?