The Complicated Story Of John Casablancas: The Man Who Created The Modern Modeling Industry

John Casablancas founded one of the world's best-known modeling agencies, Elite Model Management, in 1972. Five years later, he opened the New York branch of Elite Models and soon went global. Through Elite Models, Casablancas discovered models like Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford, and Naomi Campbell, essentially inventing the concept of a "supermodel" in the process.

But, as is the case with many industries, modeling is associated with a dark underbelly. Within that context, Casablancas was part of establishing a culture that discriminated and exploited young girls and women beneath a facade of craft and glamour. In addition to his positive influence on modeling, there were numerous scandals involving John Casablancas, especially as his predatory relationships with his modeling talent became clear. As a middle-aged man spending most of his time around beautiful women, Casablancas acted the part of a degenerate behind the scenes while using his modeling agency as his glamorous playground. 

Casablancas passed in 2013. Quite telling is the fact that none of his high-profile former clients - the world's first supermodels - made statements or came to pay their respects.

  • He Used To Party With Celebrities And Provide Them With Models

    John Casablancas used to run in the same circles as New York City elites like Donald Trump. In the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Trump in the 2010s, an incident involving the two men and several models came to light.

    At a dinner party both men attended in 1996, Casablancas provided models for the event. The men at the party reportedly requested the women walk on tables so they could look up their skirts. According to a Daily Mail article:

    [Trump] would then comment on whether they were wearing anything - and if not, what he thought of their genitals.

    Trump's interest in the modeling industry ostensibly grew. He owned his own modeling agency, known as Trump Models, between 1999 and 2017. The agency closed amid claims of human trafficking and "modern-day slavery" in regards to the treatment of the models he represented.

  • He Held Wet T-Shirt Contests At Xenon, The New York Nightclub

    During the early 1980s, John Casablancas made partying part of his job. He went on record as saying that he preferred "a model that parties a little too much to a model that doesn’t party enough" and provided plenty of opportunities for models to make an impression.

    After he was turned away from the popular nightclub Studio 54, Casablancas decided that he'd focus on Xenon, another hotspot in New York City. He threw several parties at Xenon, sending t-shirts from Elite Models as invitations, which the women wore when they attended. The models would show as much skin as possible while wearing the shirts.

    One night, after Casablancas had a temporary pool installed for the occasion, the party turned into a wet t-shirt contest. On another occasion, he had a pajama party of sorts where models wore nothing but lingerie.

  • He Saw Modeling Potential Everywhere He Looked - Even In His Own Daughter

    In preparation for her profile on John Casablancas for New York magazine in 1988, reporter Dinah Prince observed the modeling scout and agent with some of his biggest talent. She watched Casablancas interact with famous models like Iman, Andie MacDowell, and Carol Alt, and she saw him chime in to try to take part in their conversations. 

    The three women were discussing their families, so Casablancas told the group about how his daughter, Cecile, had been asked by a photographer to model for him during a trip to Ibiza the previous year. Casablancas then told them that he tried to get $2,000 for the shot because "she's got a great little body."

  • He Charmed Stephanie Seymour, But Only After Noticing Her Mom First

    John Casablancas told New York magazine that he noticed Stephanie Seymour's mother before he ever noticed the future supermodel. Casablancas described her as "absolutely ravishing" and "much more interesting" than her daughter.

    It doesn't seem like anything happened between Seymour's mother and Casablancas, but the 41-year-old modeling maverick was, to the teenaged Seymour, her "first everything." 

    Stephanie's mother was highly encouraging when it came to her daughter's modeling career, helping her get her father's permission to go to Paris, Rome, and Acapulco. When she finally broke the news of her relationship with Casablancas to her father, he simply suggested she was making a mistake.

    Casablancas swooped in and charmed Seymour's father, and according to Stephanie Seymour, "convinced my father that he loved me more than anybody in this world." 

  • His Third Wife Was 17 Years Old When They Married

    John Casablancas married Aline Wermelinger in 1993. The model was one of Casablancas's own models and was 17 years old at the time - her new husband was 50. Wermelinger had participated in Elite's Look of the Year contest in her native Brazil the previous year.

    She was, by her own admission, "deeply religious and virginal." During the contest, she had even told the judges about her favorite book of the Bible.

    Casablancas and Wermelinger had a short courtship, dating for only three months before Casablancas went to Brazil to meet her family. He called their chemistry "electric," but also admitted, "I’m not saying the relationship will last forever. But who knows?" Aline and John were married until his passing in 2013.

  • When He Left The Modeling Industry, Casablancas Unleashed A Tirade Of Insults Against His Supermodels

    John Casablancas retired from the modeling industry in 2000 and moved to Brazil with his young wife, Aline.

    This was one year after a BBC documentary came out depicting Elite Models as racist and exploitive. The documentary challenged both Casablancas's integrity and his legacy.

    After he left the modeling world, Casablancas didn't hold back from talking about the women he had worked with over the years. He called Naomi Campbell "odious" and expressed happiness at having fired her. He labeled Gisele Bündchen "a monster of selfishness," and identified Heidi Klum as a "talentless German sausage."