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Amid Model Wars, Ford Rebrands with the Help of Fabien Baron

After years of struggle, Ford Models, the agency founded by Eileen and Jerry Ford in 1946, is adopting a new strategy led by two former rivals.
By
  • Osman Ahmed

NEW YORK, United States — Ford Models, the legendary agency founded by Eileen and Jerry Ford in 1946, has been given a facelift by the famed art director Fabien Baron. The refresh follows the May 2017 arrival of chief creative officer Christopher Michael and vice president of US Women Kwok Chan, both founding members of The Society Management, the US division of (longtime Ford rival) Elite World, who left the company in October 2016.

Baron’s rebranding is part of a new content-driven strategy designed to modernise the agency's public identity.  “[Baron] is an editorial genius and we wanted the team to create an editorial environment that is more conducive to the storytelling aspect [of the business],” says Michael, who admits the agency has been struggling for years.

Ford has closed divisions, including its once-lucrative catalogue division, to focus instead on digital content creation, harnessing the power of its models' social media accounts to offer clients multi-faceted — and hopefully, more profitable — packages that include backstage interviews and Instagram posts.

“[Models] are both creators and distributors of content," says Michael. "We try to help them understand what works in those spaces, but always prioritise their authenticity. Understanding things that can help them. What's strange and fascinating about it is that you can feel the authenticity or the lack of it when you see people online.”

"You sort of become an in-house advertising agency, which is very interesting and exciting."

"People want to know more [about the talent]: Where are they from? What are their interests? What are their causes?" Michael adds. "You sort of become an in-house advertising agency, which is very interesting and exciting.”

The new Ford site reflects the minimalist composition for which Baron is renowned. In the past, he has reinvented brands such as Harper's Bazaar, Calvin Klein, Vogue Paris and Balenciaga.

Michael, who previously helped grow the careers of Kendall Jenner and Natalie Westling, says that the focus is now on building and diversifying the agency's talent roster, which includes gender non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon and trans supermodel Andreja Pejić.

“It’s not that we have these [diverse] looks in this vending-machine structure, but more that we have these unique narratives,” says Michael. “Some people...are signing a new influencer every day, and you just don’t understand why.”

Earlier this year, Ford landed itself in trouble when Elite brought a lawsuit against the agency for poaching Michael and Chan. The tension between the two goes back to when John Casablancas, a former employee of Ford, launched Elite in the US in 1997 and poached more than a handful of Eileen and Jerry Ford’s most prolific models.

Editor's Note: This article was revised on 20 October, 2017. An earlier version of this article misstated that Christopher Michael and Kwok Chan joined Ford Models in October 2016. They left their former employer Elite World in October 2016, but did not officially join Ford until May 2017, though whether they were working for Ford in the interim, as alleged by Elite, is the subject of ongoing litigation.

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