The infamous stack of bibles, that Eileen Ford sent to her enemies in 1977 were bleeding. They were a casualty of the notorious Model Wars, a bitter rivalry between Ford Models and Elite Model Management. The word “Judas” highlighted in red throughout. It was an undisguised message to Ford’s defectors. Principally, her message was for John Casablancas, Elite’s founder. Casablancas got his start that year by snatching the world’s top models from Ford’s roster.
The New York Post reports that it uncovered a lawsuit filed in the Manhattan Supreme Court that indicates, 40 years later, the rivalry continues.
Elite filed the lawsuit against Ford for poaching not only models but also their two top New York execs, Kwok Kan Chan and Christopher Michael Williams. Both are named as defendants in the suit. Elite claims that Chan and Williams broke their non-compete agreements and are now luring Elite’s models to Ford.
A noncompetition agreement or “non-compete” is a provision included in some employment agreements that prohibit the employee from directly competing with their former employer for a specific length of time and within specific geographic limits.
Chan is known as a power-player in the industry. He represented Georgia May Jagger — Mick’s daughter with model Jerry Hall, who was also presented by Ford at her peak. Chan and Williams started The Society Management in 2012 as a U.S. Division of Elite.
Williams helped elevate Kendall Jenner from the reality-TV star lowlands to the top-model fast track. In its suit, Elite argues that Williams was “one of The Society’s top-performing agents.”
Last October, four years into their contracts, Chan and Williams resigned within days of each other. Elite continued to pay Chan and Williams’s mid six-figure salaries until their five-year contracts ran out, the lawsuit alleges. Chan and Williams went on to work for Ford. According to the lawsuit, the execs have been violating the non-compete provisions of their employment contracts by helping Ford lure away Elite models.
Chan and Williams are fighting back by saying any non-compete agreement they had with Elite was voided because “corporate restructuring” made it a precarious place to work.
Ford is trying to “replicate” Elite’s operation, according to Elite’s lawyer, Brian S. Cousin. This is an ironic complaint considering that in the late 1940s’, Jerry Ford innovated the business side of modeling agency operations. He was instrumental in legitimizing the industry’s contract and payment system. He introduced cancellation and fitting fees to ensure models were being properly compensated for their time.
That was in addition to the multimillion-dollar contracts he negotiated in the ’70s.
When Eileen first started Ford, Jerry was hesitant to take the large role of running the business. It was Eileen who established the Ford Model aesthetic. Robert Lacey chronicled Ms. Ford’s biography, titled Model Woman: Eileen Ford and the Business of Beauty:
Ms. Ford was famous for her blunt candor, and as one of the agency’s manager recalls, she kept weekly lists of girls to be cut from their roster. Despite the legions of legendary talent that Ford discovered, hundreds of girls were brusquely turned away. “Eileen Ford liked to explain how apparent cruelty was kinder to most wannabe beauty icons than thoughtlessly prolonging their hopes,” writes Lacey.
Eileen Ford was traditional and scrupulous.
Casablancas, by contrast, was an unapologetic womanizer. His second marriage was torn apart because he started a sexual relationship with his top talent, Stephanie Seymour. She was 16. He was 42.
His arch nemesis had no qualms about dubbing Casablancas a ‘sleaze’ to the media; which she did frequently.
Casablancas and Ford were on good terms, at first. The two worked together across the Atlantic until Casablanca turned his attention towards establishing himself in New York. Manhattan’s pool of fresh-faced models was a clear draw for his personal and business interests. What followed was a string of defections attributed famously to some models’ disdain for Eileen. Christie Brinkley and Naomi Campbell left Ford to join Elite. Countless others joined. Supermodel Janice Dickinson was one of the Ford agency’s most outspoken defectors.
“It’s me, big-lipped Janice,” Dickinson recalled saying, referencing one of Eileen’s frequent criticisms. “I’m going to Elite. I don’t like you. I never liked you.”
Casablancas is credited with coining the concept of “the supermodel.”
In the 1980s, legendary model agent Wilhelmina Cooper died, leaving the established order of the modeling world obliterated. Ford and Elite battled for top talent. The lawsuits and tabloid insults they hurled at one another became known as The Model Wars.
Meanwhile, as this latest lawsuit attempts to engage an old beef, the newer IMG Models continues to win major talent. IMG counts Bella and Gigi Hadid, Ashley Graham, Hailey Baldwin, and the majority of the recurring Victoria’s Secret Angels including Candace Swanepoel and Lily Aldridge on its books.