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John Casablancas, the brash upstart who transformed the modeling industry 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, is died July 20 in Rio de Janeiro. He was 70 years old.

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

When Mr. Casablancas ventured into the modeling business in the early 1970s, the most influential agents were Eileen Ford and Wilhelmina Cooper, who took an old-school approach of providing chaperones to their models and put them to bed at a reasonable time.

Mr. Casablancas challenged their dominance in 1977 when he moved his operation from Europe to New York with a different approach to grooming young women for runway shows and glossy fashion series.

“We gave them huge sums of money, and we gave them names and personalities. We let them give interviews. As a result, they have become a dream for the general public. They became models,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2000.

The main difference between his approach and Ford’s, he told another interviewer, was that “Ford was a prude, and I wasn’t.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Casablancas vision gave Elite a coveted roster of talent who became household names and earned extravagant fees. Evangelista joked that models at her level “don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.”

Mr. Casablancas later came to regret his role in transforming models into superstars. In 2000, when he sold his share of Elite, he attacked the “spoiled troublemakers” he had made famous. “I hate them all,” he said, referring to Bundchen as “a freak of selfishness” and Heidi Klum as “a talentless German sausage.”

When he left the agency, it had 500 models on four continents whose bookings brought in 100 million dollars a year.

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

Married three times, he had an affair with model Stephanie Seymour in 1983, when she was 16 and he was 41. This ended his second marriage, to former model and Miss Denmark Jeanette Christiansen.

His retirement was precipitated by a scandal involving then-Elite Europe chairman Gerald Marie, who was shown in a 1999 BBC documentary offering a young model to have sex with him. Mr. Casablancas was not implicated in the scandal, but he left the agency the following year.

Born in New York on December 12, 1942, Mr. Casablancas had a cosmopolitan upbringing, including attending the exclusive Swiss boarding school Le Rosey. He attended several colleges to study law and economics, but did not graduate.

At 20, he was hired by the mother of a classmate to be marketing manager for Coca-Cola in Brazil, although he had no experience in the field. At his father’s insistence, he married his French girlfriend, Marie Christine, but the union did not last.

After a few years in Brazil, Mr. Casablancas moved to Paris, where his relationship with Christiansen blossomed. She offered him to try his hand at creating a modeling agency. In 1969, he opened Elysées 3, named after his Paris phone number.

“Although it took years for Casablancas to make its mark internationally, modeling was never the same,” author Michael Gross wrote in his 1995 book “Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women”.

“With Casablancas,” Gross wrote, “a new generation has entered modeling. Raised on the new values ​​of sex, drugs and rock and roll, they were the children of [the Michelangelo Antonioni film] “Blow-Up”, and their arrival on the scene was explosive. »

In late 1971, the superagent announced that he was opening a separate agency, Elite Model Management, to focus on top models. Gross called the news “announcement of the birth of the most important modeling agency since Ford.”

In 1977, Mr. Casablancas crossed the Atlantic to challenge Ford in his own backyard. Its foray into New York spurred what has been called “the war of models”. Top agencies raided each other for talent, and Ford and Wilhelmina sued Elite for infringing on their territory.

Over the next decade, Casablancas transformed Elite into a global network with a stable that would grow to include Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Andie MacDowell, Iman and Paulina Porizkova.

He made headlines in 1993 when he fired Campbell. He later told a French magazine that Campbell “was obnoxious. She used to go out every night with four different dresses in her bag and change in her car.

Mr. Casablancas is survived by his wife, Aline Wermelinger, and their three children. His other survivors include his children from his first two marriages, Cecile Casablancas and The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas; and a brother.

—Los Angeles Times