John Casablancas, the man who made supermodels and grew to regret it, dies aged 70

Elite agency founder later denounced catwalk models as ‘spoilt pains’

The founder of the Elite Model Management agency, the man credited with creating the era of the supermodel by launching the careers of Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista – has died, aged 70.

John Casablancas – the father of The Strokes’ singer Julian Casablancas – was as famous for his playboy lifestyle and good looks as for the panache which revolutionised the comparatively staid world of international glamour in the 1970s.

Although he revelled in the company of beautiful women, he was later to publicly turn on some of his most successful protégés, on whose behalf he had helped negotiate stratospheric fees, and to rue his invention of the entire supermodel phenomenon.

Although he was not implicated in allegations of wrongdoing, in 2000 he stood down as chairman of the world’s biggest model agency following a controversial undercover BBC documentary into Elite, which showed the company’s European agents boasting of their drug use and sexual conquests of young models. Casablancas quit the industry and went on to denounce the women and their handlers who had come to dominate the catwalk and lucrative photo shoots as “spoilt pains” surrounded by “idiots and leeches”. He described Heidi Klum as a “talentless German sausage” and Naomi Campbell as “odious”. He said:  “Apart from Linda Evangelista, no supermodel has ever thanked me  when she got to the top.”

But he remained popular with some of the women he worked with. The Brazilian supermodel Ana Beatriz Barros paid tribute on Sunday to the man she described as “my mentor… a true friend and inspiration”. The Polish-American model Joanna Krupa said he was “one of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life”.

Born in Manhattan to wealthy refugee parents who had fled the Spanish Civil War, he lived an early privileged life travelling and flitting between jobs.

He founded the model agency in Paris in 1972, challenging the then dominant Ford agency not just to represent the world’s most beautiful women but also espousing a champagne lifestyle for his charges which was starkly at odds with the prevailing business ethos.

The entrepreneur ended up being sued by Ford and winning – earning yet more notoriety. At its height Elite generated $100m (£65m) a year in bookings fees. The success and arrogance of the age was encapsulated in 1990 when Evangelista famously declared: “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.”

Although he was later to regret it, Casablancas encouraged the women to become celebrities in their own right. He persuaded Cindy Crawford to pose for Playboy, a career move which turned her into the world’s highest-paid model in 1995, earning $6.5m (£4.2m). His private life was equally colourful. In the 1980s, a relationship with the then 16-year-old Stephanie Seymour ended in the break-up of his second marriage. Looking back on his career in 2010 he said: “I had the understanding of a guy who loved beautiful women and above all who liked the sensuality of it all. All of the other agents were either women or gay guys. They had their own approach, which in certain instances was probably superior to mine, but I had something I thought was unique. I looked at my models as women.”

Casablancas had been receiving treatment for cancer in Brazil, where he spent much of his later life.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Davidson performs his comedy show at Edinburgh Festival 2014
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Finance Manager - Central London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Business Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: IT Buyer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT company are currently re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Account Manager

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor