John Casablancas, a titan among modeling agents, succumbed to cancer Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was 70 years old. The founder of Elite Models had a famed eye for talent, and produced the group of supermodels who came to define the ‘80s and ‘90s: Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista.
Born in New York in 1942, Casablancas went to boarding school in Switzerland and bounced around to several European colleges before founding Elite Model Management in Paris in 1972. His oversize influence on the fashion industry and the rise of the supermodel is evident in the legendary list of models who got their start at Elite, in addition to Campbell, Crawford and Evangelista: Claudia Schiffer, Paulina Porizkova, Heidi Klum, Gisele Bündchen. In 1983, Elite created The Look of the Year, a modeling competition that is now known as Elite Model Look. Contestants over the years included Lara Stone, Diane Kruger and Petra Nemcova.
Under Casablancas’ tutelage, models became bigger stars in their own rights by showing some personality and becoming more than just another pretty face. He also encouraged his girls to flaunt their sex appeal in an approach that was vastly different from the traditional modeling agencies of the ‘70s, which were more maternal towards their clients. Under his leadership, Elite became a global behemoth and its supermodels commanded stratospheric fees; as Evangelista famously noted, “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.”
While Casablancas worked hard, he also played hard. He developed a reputation as a lothario for cavorting with younger models, and had a cradle-robbing affair with Stephanie Seymour when she was 15 and he was 41 and married. Known to be quite competitive with other agencies, he weathered frequent accusations of poaching within the industry. In 2000, he resigned from the high-profile modeling group amid allegations of sex and drug use between agency management and the models they represented, though Casablancas himself was not implicated.
By this time, he had come to believe he’d created something of a monster, telling the Telegraph, “One of my biggest regrets is that I created the supermodel. They can be impossible…The girls never thanked me for it. I’ve had enough.”
He leaves behind his third wife Aline Wermelinger, who he was married to for 20 years, and five children—one of whom, Julian, is the frontman for The Strokes.