Thursday, August 5, 2010

John Casablancas x Complex

For all of the die hard fashionistas who want to know their history...

At the helm of the agency Elite, John Casablancas rewrote the modeling handbook and invented the supermodel. He had an internationalist upbringing: Born to upper–middle– class Spanish parents who fled civil war in their homeland, Casablancas was educated in Switzerland, worked for Coca–Cola in Brazil and then married Miss Denmark, with whom he had a son, Julian, now famous as the lead singer of The Strokes. Casablancas founded Elite out of “curiosity and pleasure,” sold out in 2000 to the entrepreneur and junior real estate mogul Eddie Trump and retired to live out his days in Brazil. But five years later, Casablancas is back at the reins of Elite, in a position he describes as “Eddie Trump’s personal counselor.” In reality, he is doing what he has always done: picking out beautiful women and turning them into superstars. Here, he tells Complex how it’s done.
Tell us about the early days of Elite.
John Casablancas: Modeling was a very catty business when I started, and I was totally atypical. I was not gay, I was not in fashion, and I was not an editor. I was just a more normal, jock kind of guy who liked sports and pretty girls. It was unheard of that a model agent was not either a woman or a gay man—I think I was the first male heterosexual on earth to work as a model agent.
Why did you call the agency Elite?
John Casablancas: I developed an elitist approach—you put the same amount of work into a mediocre model as you do in a top model and themoney is 10 times bigger in a top model. Of course, with a top model, it then turns out you have other problems.
You mean that with a supermodel you get a super ego?
John Casablancas: Always. You take the nicest girl in the world and make her a supermodel and she becomes a monster nine times out of 10. It’s human. Firstly, when everyone tells you that you are beautiful, you are perfect, you are divine, it goes to your head. Secondly, you become wary—everyone wants stuff, people want your money or endorsement. The third reason is the boyfriend who has to justify his miserable existence by becoming an adviser. He doesn’t know anything about the business!
So what happens?
John Casablancas: It makes these girls into really hard–nosed business people. They start out adorable. As they go up the ladder they become increasingly difficult. They become supermodels and really they are bitches from hell. Then they retire, they become civilians, and they become adorable again. There is nothing wrong with them personally. It’s just an effect of pressure and attention.
Like Naomi Campbell?
John Casablancas: Naomi is doing remarkably well; she is looking great. I don’t represent her anymore, I repped her originally, and I was the only person ever to fire her. She stayed with us for many years, and she was responsible for a lot of good stuff and a lot of bad stuff. She made me lose Tyra Banks because she didn’t feel there was room for her and Tyra at the same agency.
Naomi’s temper gets her in the papers a lot, doesn’t it?
John Casablancas: Naomi has a really nasty side, because of her temperament, her lifestyle and her history. I like her a lot, but I would not work with her again for all the gold on earth. She was abusive with her booking staff and it was unbearable. Naomi is a “bad girl,” but she is also a very, very good person. She must learn how to manage her anger. When she loses it and beats up her nannies or secretaries it causes her trouble.
But you like her personally?
John Casablancas: If someone called me tomorrow and said Naomi is coming into town, I would be delighted to have her at my table. She might throw a glass of wine at somebody but it would be fun. She’d be sexy and pretty and desirable and exciting.
So why are you back at Elite?
John Casablancas: When I left I was known as the agent of the supermodels. My last two models were Gisele B?ndchen and Heidi Klum. Five years go by and the two last supermodels are still Heidi Klum and Gisele B?ndchen. So it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to say, “Well, when John left, that was it. The supermodel died.”
And how are you going to bring them back?
John Casablancas: Supermodels are not just born. I am teaching a young generation of scouts how to make a superstar.
How do you do that?
John Casablancas: You have to look into a model—who she really is. She has to have a series of elements put together. She has to be physically attractive, she has to exude elegance, sensuality, movement and energy. Then she has to have a mental attitude that is interesting or intriguing to the public. You inflame the imagination. Then she becomes not just a pretty face but a celebrity, and her price becomes 10 times bigger.
So who are the names to look out for?
John Casablancas: I can’t say names because it would anger the people I don’t name. We have 10 girls who could make it—except some have boyfriends who are very destructive, others have leech mothers who will ruin it all, others are dumb or just don’t get it. But I think there are three or four who have the ingredients to take it all the way.
Who is the most beautiful model today?
John Casablancas: Gisele. I hate to say it because she has nothing to say from an intellectual point of view. No contribution to make to the human cause. She is an empty shell, one big void as a person. But as a model she is exciting and interesting.
And that’s what counts, right?
John Casablancas: In this business, yes. This is all about money. It’s not about anything else. Sure, there’s some art in it, some aesthetic values in it, but it’s about money. I always say to girls that when they leave they will have two things: a scrapbook to show their children and grandchildren and their bank account—if they’re smart, that is.