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Agent's 'supermodel' vision transformed runway

In this February 25, 1980 file photograph, John Casablancas, head of the Elite Modeling Agency, with top models Lisa Taylor, left, and Tina Tyson in his Beverly Hills office. Casablancas died July 20, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro. He was 70. Casablancas, who lived in Miami, had cancer, said his executive assistant, Lorraine Caggiano. (Martha Hartnett/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

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By The Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

John Casablancas, the brash upstart who transformed the modeling business in the late 1970s when he founded the Elite agency and turned its young beauties — including Linda Evangelista, Gisele Bundchen and Naomi Campbell — into celebrities, died on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro. He was 70.

Casablancas, who lived in Miami, had cancer, said his executive assistant, Lorraine Caggiano.

When Casablancas ventured into the modeling business in the early 1970s, the super-agents were Eileen Ford and Wilhemina Cooper, who took an old-school approach, providing chaperones for their models and tucking them into bed at a reasonable hour.

In 1977, Casablancas moved his operation from Europe to New York City with a very different approach.

“We gave them huge amounts of money, and we gave them names and personalities. We let them give interviews. Suddenly, they became a dream for the larger public. They became supermodels,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2000.

The main difference between his approach and Ford's, he told an interviewer, was “Ford was a prude, and I was not.”

Through the 1980s and '90s, Casablancas' vision gave Elite a coveted roster of talents who became household names and earned extravagant fees. Evangelista famously quipped that models at her level “don't wake up for less than $10,000 a day.”

Casablancas came to regret his role. In 2000, when he sold his share of Elite, he lashed out at the “spoilt trouble-makers” he had made famous.

“I hate them all,” he said, singling out Bundchen as “a monster of selfishness” and Heidi Klum as “a German sausage without talent.”

When he left, the agency had 500 models whose bookings brought in $100 million a year.

Along the way, the dashing Casablancas lived the high life he encouraged his models to pursue. He made no secret of his love of beautiful women, dated many of his much-younger models and partied hard.

His retirement was hastened by a scandal involving the president of Elite Europe, shown in a 1999 BBC documentary propositioning a young model for sex. Casablancas was not implicated but left the agency the next year.

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