Casablancas founded Elite in Paris in 1972, a time when model agents took a comparatively sober — in both senses of the word — approach to representing their clients. The big agencies back then were Ford and Wilhemina, who famously provided chaperones for their models. Elite and its playboy founder turned the business archetype on its head not just by giving young woman extravagant sums of money and a champagne lifestyle but by giving them something equally important: character.
“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 said in 2000 to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Casablancas persuaded Cindy Crawford to get in front of the camera for Playboy, which in turn transformed her into the world’s highest-paid model in 1995. And Linda Evangelista’s infamous quip that she and Christy Turlington “don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day,” can probably be credited to him also.
While money, status and the company of beautiful women were all things Casablancas loved, he quit the business in 2000 following an undercover BBC documentary into Elite in which the company’s European agents were shown boasting of their drug use and sexual conquests of young models. Following his rejection of the industry he also renounced the supermodels he had created as “spoilt trouble-makers”. He singled out Gisele Bundchen as a “monster of selfishness” and Heidi Klum as “a German sausage without talent.”
He’s survived by his wife, Aline Wermelinger, a brother and five children from two marriages, including The Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas.