Words like “legend” and “visionary” are often overused–especially in the fashion world. But both would accurately describe modeling agent John Casablancas, who died Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil of cancer, the New York Times is reporting. He was 70.
The influence Casablancas had on the fashion industry throughout his career cannot be understated. If the glamorous supermodel era of the ’80s and ’90s could be attributed to one person, it would be Casablancas.
Born in New York to a Spanish family, Casablancas attended boarding school in Switzerland and went on to found Elite Model Management in the ’70s, where models like Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Carol Alt, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, Andie MacDowell, Kim Alexis, Paulina Porizkova, Iman, Heidi Klum and Gisele Bündchen all got their start. He’s credited with encouraging his models to play up their personalities as well as their sex appeal. His approach lead to models commanding bigger paychecks and becoming celebrities, as well as indulging in the less professional activities still associated with that era, like wild partying.
His career was shrouded in almost as much controversy as it was glamor, perhaps thanks in part to his willingness to mix business with pleasure–for instance, having a public affair with 15-year-old model Stephanie Seymour when he was 41 and married. He was one of many agents believed to be taking advantage of young models.
The competition he brought to other established New York modeling agencies also lead to feuds and accusations of poaching.
Ultimately, Casablancas went on to regret the supermodel culture he created, claiming his models weren’t grateful for the success he allowed them. “One of my biggest regrets is that I created the supermodel,” he told The Telegraph in 2000. “They can be impossible. Elite single-handedly brought modeling rates to a peak no one could have imagined, but the girls never thanked me for it. I’ve had enough.”
He then opened up a modeling school.
He’s survived by his third wife, Aline Wermelinger, and his children from all three of his marriages, including Julian Casablancas of The Strokes.
Society Management, which is part of Elite World, released the following statement:
Elite World and The Society Management are deeply saddened to receive the unfortunate news of Mr. John Casablancas’ passing. As a man of extraordinary talent, Mr. Casablancas was instrumental in formulating the global success of the Elite brand. His vision changed the model management concept, driving the career of iconic top models. His legacy will have an everlasting impact on our industry and his enthusiasm will last forever. On behalf of the Group, Elite World CEO Stefania Valenti sends her thoughts and prayers to John’s wife Aline, the family and all those who loved him.