There was a time in my life that was especially full of wonder and magic. It started when an agent in Vancouver sent two Polaroid photographs of me to two different agents. One was Eileen Ford in New York. The other was John Casablancas in Paris.
Luckily, they both offered me plane tickets. I chose Paris first, because it was the farthest away from where I came from, and I wanted to see the world.
John Casablancas was a wonderful agent. He owned Elite, the best modeling agency in Paris. He treated me very well, paid for my flight, my hotel, advanced all of my spending money, while I never made a dime for him the first few months I was there. After a while, he said he thought we should try Germany. At 5'10, blonde with blue eyes, it was an easy place to make some cash.
Later, I went to New York to be with Eileen Ford. John and Eileen had a friendly. reciprocal business relationship then. They represented each other's models back and forth between Paris and New York. Eileen sent newbies to John, he built up their portfolios, and they eventually went to the Fords in New York to give it a shot.
One day, John moved into Eileen's turf- New York. He came in like a tsunami, and they became bitter rivals. Many of Ford's biggest names were leaving them for Elite. Eileen sued John, lost, and the fight became the the infamous series of articles in the New Yorker called "Model Wars", where Eileen made a dig aimed at me.
Somehow, I found myself caught in the middle. I ran into John crossing 57th Street one afternoon. We hugged and spoke for a moment. No biggie. That evening I got a call from Eileen at home accusing me of "cheating on her" with John. I think she freaked out because she'd been betrayed by girls whose careers she had built- some of whom had lived in her house as she groomed them- and they were jumping ship. In my case, it was unfounded, and the conversation with me trying to convince her of that became so elevated, that I finally told her if she was blaming me for doing it, I might as well be doing it. So I went left the Fords and went back to John. The big, warm teddy bear. That was a great time. Janice Dickinson took me under her wing. Life was exciting and fun. Studio 54 had opened. Glamorous times, money was easy. We were young and free.
I never saw anything of the "playboy" in all the years I knew John, but we did not see each other often socially, other than in clubs or restaurants. Everyone knew of his beautiful wife, Jeanette Christiansen. I remember later when he left Jeanette because he fell in love with Stephanie Seymour. I also remember when Stephanie broke up with John, and he was shattered. Who did he turn to, knowing that she was there for him? Yep. Jeanette. She was spectacular, and he always said so.
Once, I was on a flight returning to New York from St. Barts. John was on the same flight. He was in really bad shape. He had a terrible toothache, and was also brokenhearted over Stephanie. I did my best to console him. I'd never seen him like that. Vulnerable. Even so, he was the most polite and lovable guy. He wasn't even my agent at that point. I'd left him to go to Zoli. It didn't matter. He wasn't petty like that. If he was liked you, you had a friend, and he didn't change.
I've always smiled whenever I've heard someone speak of John as "Johnny". It was a sure thing that they didn't know him well at all. Maybe there was some ultra secret boys club, but I saw other men, hoping some of his charisma would rub off and make them like him. He was no Johnny. He was no one's boy, although he was boyishly charming. John was polite, elegant, and sophisticated. He dressed beautifully. He was sent to Le Rosey when he was young, and was always very smooth and polished. I never knew him to be anything but generous and warm. I can still hear his voice with that accent. He was like a movie star, but he only cared about beauty and business.
One night I was in a nightclub in New York. We were at a table, John, Jacques and Dominique Silberstein, I don't remember who else. My Dad had died very recently, and I was wearing his favorite sweater- a treasure to me. It was hot and I took it off for a minute to dance. When I came back, it was missing. I was very upset, and John had the club stop everything. They turned on all the lights, and all were searching everywhere. This is just not done in clubs in New York. Ever.
The next day, John had people scour the city, and sure enough, I got a call. They found whomever had taken it by mistake and it was returned to me. This might not sound like much to some, but to me, it was the last physical piece I had of of my Dad, and worth more than anything to me. John understood this, and he did not belittle me. Rather, as always, he went out of his way to help.
I left New York before the full blown era of the so called, (and most often, self proclaimed) "Supermodel", (which I have always thought was Superhokey). Years later, when John left the business, I thought it was hilarious that he finally got to say what he actually thought of some of those ninnies. The ones he made rich, who in return were ungrateful and ridiculous. What relief he must felt, finally letting it out.
Today I was sad to hear of John's death. I feel a loss for a man who was a really kind to a young girl. I am grateful to him for not exploiting that girl in a strange country.
He turned the modeling world upside down, rewrote the rules, and had a wonderful time doing it.
John Casablancas lived the life of a Prince, without the restrictions. He will be remembered well.
R.I.P. dear John xoxox