“CASABLANCAS: THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN”— The Man Who Invented the Supermodel

“Casablancas: The Man Who Loved Women” (“Casablancas, l’homme qui aimait les femmes”)

The Man Who Invented the Supermodel

Amos Lassen

In 2011, John Casablancas, the founder of Elite Modeling Agency and the man who invented the supermodel sat down with a friend to record his life story. He would pass away two years later after battling cancer. These recordings became the basis of this documentary. We also see archival footage and pictures along with the story of the man that changed the modeling industry and became a world power.

John Casablancas was convinced by someone in the industry that he should be a modeling agent. But that wasn’t enough for him, as he decided to take on the giants of the industry like Ford Modeling Agency, and start his own company. It was unheard of at the time that a heterosexual male would be a leader in the fashion industry. Casablanca shot to stardom by “stealing” talent from the bigger agencies and establishing his own. He represented people like Christie Brinkley, Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford, and just about every big name at the time. It was his idea to turn the models into celebrities thus making them household names so as to increase their value. It revolutionized the industry and set off a nasty war between the agencies.

We see Elite Models founder John Casablancas reflect on his loose and lucrative career. He certainly seems to have had all the luck— not only was he born rich, handsome and multinational, he was educated at the best Swiss schools and then chaperoned into high society. He went on to create the global powerhouse Elite Model Management, which caused the careers of many to take off and remain grounded.

The documentary features a lengthy one-on-one interview backed by tons of personal archives, TV clips and fashion-spread photos and it is almost like watching a dream sequence. This film is a glimpse at how one man managed to transform the sleepy world of modeling, in the mid-1960s into a star-driven enterprise of the ‘80s and ‘90s that made beautiful women into rich and famous celebrities. He was a successful lady-killer and a very decent person.

Casablanca was born in New York to Catalan parents and then raised in France and Switzerland. At times he seems to be a parody of the International Playboy. He was tall, suave, handsome and athletic and he appealed to beautiful women. What is most

impressive about Casbalancas’ career is how he more or less single-handedly reshaped the modeling business into the giant that it is today, taking his Paris-based Elite (which he founded in 1972) from a boutique agency of some thirty models and expanding it into the U.S. and dozens of other countries, with annual billings reaching close to $100 million during at its prime.

All of this was done on the backs of young women — many of them underage and handpicked in the company’s Elite Model Look beauty contests and is never questioned in this film. Director Hubert Woroniecki has a tendency to be more hagiographical than biographical in his approach to Casablanca. Still, he provides some intriguing details about the gradual shift in modeling from nameless faces in magazine ads to superstars like Eva Herzegovina and Heidi Klum (both of whom were once represented by Elite), particularly the “model wars” of the 1980s between newcomer Casablancas and New York stalwart Eileen Ford, whose conservative approach was a far cry from the, headlines-heavy atmosphere of Elite.

Casablancas does not brag about any of this, and his modest, matter-of-fact way of recalling his rise to power is refreshing. The documentary is full of home movies, private and professional photos, appearances on Oprah and Letterman, as well as newsreel footage of the Swiss Alps in the 1950s to the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan some three or four decades later.

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