Elite Models' John Casablancas Passed at 70

Elite Models' John Casablancas Passed at 70

Founder of Elite Models, John Casablancas, who discovered Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Claudia Schiffer, passed away on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro of cancer at the age of 70.

Casablancas started Elite Model Management in 1972 in Paris and opened in New York in 1977.

Casablancas was instrumental in creating the supermodel phenomenon where models were identified solely by their first names. Other modells whose careers he launched include Cindy Crawford, Stephanie Seymour, Gisele Bündchen and Heidi Klum.

Casalancas' Elite agency was the opposite of the Ford Modeling Agency, where Elieen Ford had models live in her home to keep an eye on them. Casablancas was also accused by Ford for poaching models. He also came under scrutiny for allegedly sleeping with teenage models he signed to Elite.

"John ripped the hypocrisy off the modeling business. He said, 'What we're selling is sex, so let's sell sex,'" said Michael Gross, author of "Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women." "It definitely stemmed from his personality, which was a man who loved women, lots of women."

A 1999 BBC undercover documentary exposed Elite's Europe executives bragging about their drug use and sexual exploits with young models. Although, Casablancas wasn't implicated, his reputation was damaged and he resigned from the agency the following year. He sold his equity in Elite and moved to Miami and Rio de Janeiro.

"He consulted and tried different projects," said his former assistant Lorraine Caggiano. "Four years ago, he started Star System, a scouting firm that advises models and places them with agencies." When Elite USA was purchased in 2005 by Eddie Trump, the new owner lured Casablancas back to New York as a consultant. He was still the same Casablanca, bragging to New York magazine, "After me, nothing happened. The business has become extraordinarily dull."

"Elite World and The Society Management [a division of Elite World] are deeply saddened [by] Mr. John Casablancas' passing," said Stefania Valenti, chief executive officer of Elite World. "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 careers of iconic top models."

"He was extremely intelligent and a very elegant man," said Caggiano, who worked for Casablancas for 20 years. "He had a charisma that people were drawn to. You felt like you were the only person in the room when he spoke to you."

Casablancas is survived by his wife, Aline, and five children, Cecile, Julian, John Jr., Fernando Augusto and Nina.