Crimes of Persuasion

Schemes, scams, frauds.

John Casablancas Modeling School - Letters / Complaints

To Whom It May Concern:

My sister recently informed me that her twin sons (who are 18 years old, very tall, well built, attractive, one more so than the other but attractive, and have bad teeth) are enrolled in the John Casablancas modeling school.

It is costing her $1,700 (only $1,400 if she paid in one lump sum!) and from what I hear the school made it sound like a deal ("two for the price of one").

She also mentioned that the school will need them to have pictures every six months and, of course, the pictures are taken by their photographer, and my sister can either buy the prints individually, or the roll of film for $20.

My sister knows nothing about photography, acting, or modeling, and is susceptible to praise of her children.

Do you know anything of this agency? My sister and her family live in Ayer, Mass. so I am assuming that the agency is somewhere near there.

Oh, yes, she also stated that the one son went to some modeling event at a hotel, which is where he met the Cassablancas people.

When her son informed them that he had a twin, they told him twins work all the time, and that he should bring the other twin back.

It all sounds a little shady to me. My husband and I are actors, my husband more successfully than I, but I am not a total rube, and the situation sounded a little warped.

If I am concerned, I need to provide my sister with some proof (she won't investigate herself), otherwise she will think me jealous, and trying to conspire to ruin her children's chances at happiness.

She is VERY paranoid about people "having it in" for her and her family.

Can you offer any insight or information?

Thanks so much... and sorry if I went on too long.



The first person online I saw who said they had a John Casablancas modeling and talent school diploma said: "I know I shouldn't have done it. Scam!"

Similar sentiments were expressed by others with first-hand experience:

1. My comment is not necessarily all bad, but I would like to say that if you are a young adult (17 and up), you do not need to go to John Casablancas. I went to their classes for a couple of weeks and quit because it was a waste of time and money. If you are 12-14 they could be useful, but at my age, I already know how to pluck my eyebrows. This is one of those so called "agencies" that is really more of a school. When you go there, they do not offer to sign you at all; all they offer are their classes. A good agency will have nothing to sell you.
2. The place was filled with young girls, no taller than 5'5", who did not have a particularly beautiful look, and who were led to believe that if they spent $1,500 on six months worth of classes on how to do their hair and makeup, then they would be the next supermodel.
3. PLEASE! DO NOT SPEND YOUR MONEY HERE!!! It is just that, a school, with ex-models or wannabes who want to take your money even if they know you'll never get a job in your life. I took the nine-month course when I was 14.

The first thing that looks suspicious from what you said is getting new photographs every six months. This does not make any sense.

Modeling agencies typically advise parents not to have large numbers or a portfolio of pictures taken of their babies because their looks change quite rapidly, so they would need to get new portfolios made every six months or whatever. They become obsolete rapidly; a simple snapshot will do.

The looks of 18-year-old young men are not changing very quickly, if at all. Most have stopped growing by that age, right? So what is the point of having new pictures taken every six months? Does it help the model? Or does is it just more money for the company?

As far as the modeling event at the hotel, this is a common scheme. What happens is a free event is advertised on the radio or in a newspaper. But the free event is a sales pitch. The sales pitch is for modeling photos, modeling conventions, modeling websites, or modeling schools.

They will call it an audition, an open call, a meeting, whatever, but it is always free. Once they have the attention of the aspiring model (or their parents), and work them up, they ask for money, or something that costs hundreds of dollars.

Now that leads to the whole concept of modeling schools. There are a few big ones like John Casablancas, which have franchises, but there are smaller ones out there, too. Modeling schools do not guarantee anyone will become a model.

Why? Aspiring models will look about the same when they leave a modeling school as they did when they entered it. Modeling schools don't offer plastic surgery.

The first thing agencies look for in a potential model is not a modeling school diploma, is it? It is not the same as trying to get a job in computer engineering or most other professions. That could cause some confusion over and interest in modeling schools. How many supermodels who were plucked from obscurity went to or graduated from modeling schools?

Most all of what models need to learn can be learned after an agency signs them. They will get it free. Which is why modeling agencies don't send their models off to modeling schools after they are signed.

I don't know if all this is going to convince your sister, but you may want to suggest the conventional wisdom, which is to send good pictures to agencies, or better yet, visit them. It costs little or nothing. Why limit them to one (John Casablancas) school/company when it offers no guarantees, and the alternatives are cheaper or free?

Redacted Info

To Whom It May Concern:

I have been reading your site for two days now, over and over again.

My daughter was "scouted" by one of John Casablanca's scouts, and a few weeks later an agent called my house.

I have been aware of scams for some time now, but she came at me with a different approach, or so I thought until I looked on your site, and saw a post describing exactly what my children did at this so-called "audition."

I live in the Pacific Northwest, and as evidenced by the lack of diversity in the media, especially in the NW, I thought this woman was being serious when she told me two things.

One, my daughter had that 'bad girl' look that they were looking for; and, two, my 11-year-old son could quite possibly really go somewhere.

The only thing that encouraged me to even take my children to the interview was that the agent told me that if she thought my kids were ready, they would sign a contract right there, and she would begin booking them out.

She told me her standard agent fee, which I thought sounded reasonable, because, as a writer, I know that a standard agent's fees vary from 10 to 15%.

So, we went through the interview... and... you know the drill.

At the end my children were very excited, and actually so was I.

The agent then said that she wanted all of her models to be runway- and/or TV-ready, because she only sends out the best.

So, she said, she was confident that she really wanted my children, and that she had to consult with her other agents.

Upon returning to the room, she told me they wanted my kids, but that she highly recommended that they enroll in the advanced modeling class since she felt that they didn't need confidence work.

She said the advanced class was tied in with Elite, and that their scouts came to the final fashion show, and that many of their models go on to work with Elite.

When I expressed to her that I was very low income, and told her the story of what I had been through, so she would understand why I wasn't working, she was very understanding.

Now, she talked to me about the money, and the classes. I was encouraged. My children were happy.

Then, after thinking about things, I thought, "Well, the classes could help them. After all, as she said, in any trade, you need to take a class to be a lawyer; you need to take a class to be this or that."

Then she told me she booked out 90% of her clients. I was very encouraged, especially knowing that I myself was confident the world was ready for my children.

On the phone, before the interview, she told me that in no way was she going to try to "sell" me anything. They wanted my kids.

But she did say she might "suggest" a class or two. She also said that classes were not required, however, for my children to be signed.

So I am buying into all of this, get home and start thinking, because, of course, she gave me several payment options (including one that she said she wasn't supposed to offer).

So I talk with my daughter who is 18. Her self-esteem was boosted so high that day, and I told her that since they wanted my son as well, that if this is something she wanted, she was going to have to help me, and get a job to pay for her tuition.

She was more than excited to do this.

I thought about how I would pay for my son's tuition, and concluded it was worth my last penny each month if it could help send him to college, or do something he wanted to do.

I have been a single mother of three for 20 years now, and have lived in poverty for most of those years.

Now I was thinking, "Ok, she said 'bad girl look.' I know she was politely saying, 'We want that new ghetto, thuggish look, and your kids have it.'"

She told me my son looked like lil Bow Wow (my son doesn't look like Bow Wow, although people say he does just because he has long, beautiful braids).

I told her, "Well, thank you." (Laughing as I think about this.)

Anyway, I knew that I really wanted this for my children, but I could not afford it.

So a day or two later, I called her, and asked her if the children could do some photo work, like ads or something like that since the advanced class she was telling me about was TV and runway focused.

She told me that she couldn't really do that, that they needed to take the class. Which on the phone, as I said earlier, she told me would not be a requirement to be signed by the agency.

Next she asked me if it was the down payment, that maybe she could work something out.

Then, in her bouncy voice, she insulted me (although she probably didn't know how condescending she was), by saying: "And R. is going back to work soon, too, isn't she?"

I am R.; I am not a child. I was so angry when she said that to me especially since I had told her the reason for my being out of work was due to a major surgery I had because of a severe assault that I was victim to.

After overlooking her comment, I told her that if they wanted my children so much, why couldn't they work them? And if she booked 90% of her clients, I was confident that the children could make their money, and the classes would be paid for. (Not to mention the fact that she would still have her 15%.)

She then told me that it wouldn't work. That they had to take the classes to be signed on with the agency, which, of course, was in direct conflict with what she had previously told me on the phone.

She assured me again that she knew my kids would be working. That there were movies coming here to Portland, and that they contacted John Casablancas for their extras.

She told me the kids could use that training.

So she gave me some more time to think about it, and will be calling me on Tuesday.

She started telling me what the standard payments were for jobs that models received were, and, yada, yada, yada.

So I thought, "OK, how about I write her a letter since she seems to want them so badly?"

I had a proposition: "What about if you let my children take your class since you have so much confidence that they will work, and then, when they graduate, and are working, I will pay you the tuition for giving them the opportunity to learn those skills."

Now, I know it is going to be fruitless to write this letter. It isn't about my children's look, and I realize this now.

I just know that there is a lack of diversity in the media. I know that my children are absolutely beautiful. And I know that this world is a little messed up, and if my children have that 'bad' look, well, let them capitalize on that because it might get them up and out of poverty and oppression.

I told this woman: "I know you make money off this, and I am trusting you are not going to take advantage of America's poor by selling them a pipe dream you have no intention on helping them achieve."

She countered: "I don't make money off the classes. I am an agent, and I get paid when I send my models out."

Well, frankly, I know she is not being completely truthful. She said she got no commission off the classes. If that were so, then why has she told me she can't sign the children without a down payment and contract for payment for the classes?

I don't know what to do now; I do know that I will be sending pictures to reputable agencies.

I am, however, extremely disappointed in John Casablancas for what they have implied, and what it did to my children's self-esteem that day, and then crashed it the next when I had to tell them I couldn't afford to send them to the school.

I know this is something they want to do —both of my children —or I wouldn't even be encouraging them. But I am disheartened by the phone conversation I had with the agent at John Casablancas, especially because of what she knew.

She knew I didn't have money. She knew I told her I didn't want her to waste my time. She knew that I lived on the other side of town and the fuel injectors in my car are shot. And she knew I was taking a risk even getting there.

Now I am beyond even knowing what emotion I am feeling right now.

Any suggestions or comments from you would be very helpful, and much appreciated.

Thank you,



Thanks for writing and sharing your full story in rich detail. It is going to help a lot of people. It is important to see the inner workings of the sales pitch; I don't think anyone has made this available online at length until now.

Your story showed the struggle of being a parent who really wants the best for her children, but really does not want to be scammed, and all the torque that is involved, trying to make the best decisions with the information you have been given.

It is clear you saw right through it and asked the right questions. A lot of people, unfortunately, neither see through it, nor ask the right questions.

The conflict of interest for the John Casablancas modeling school is something you made crystal clear and painfully obvious.

Generally speaking, conflict of interest is a yellow flag in the modeling industry. The industry is not policed very well so whenever a conflict of interest is identified, it is necessary to step back and check everything.

If you were giving the company the benefit of the doubt before you noticed a conflict of interest, that has to change; you cannot keep giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Further, there has to be a shift in the onus. If initially you feel the onus is on you to show yourself it is not a scam, it changes to where the burden is on the modeling business to prove they are not a scam.

In the case of the John Casablancas modeling school, they did not prove they are not a scam. In fact, the woman who called herself an agent was far from convincing after she lied to you.

Regarding the saleswoman at John Casablancas, you wrote: "She said, in any trade, you need to take a class to be a lawyer; you need to take a class to be this or that."

This was a false statement. You were given misleading information.

Modeling is fundamentally different from other kinds of work. It is about 95% genes. Maybe more.

It could be easy to get tricked because there are aspects of the modeling industry which go totally against the grain of personal experience and common knowledge about employment and preparation for employment.

The modeling industry is the exact opposite of most every other industry in a fundamental way: with almost every job you need to be trained or you will never get work; with modeling even if you have never been trained you can get work.

The example you were given or used was law. Obviously we all know you will never be a lawyer if you don't go to law school and graduate. There are standards in the legal industry. It is of course the same for many other industries, from accounting to engineering, etc., etc., and so on and so forth.

You can, however, become a model even if you don't go to school. There are models who don't have college degrees, don't have high school diplomas, and in fact haven't even finished high school. There are 14-year-old fashion models and other teen models who are not graduates of either high school or a modeling school.

Another fundamental difference between many other professions and modeling is what you look like has no bearing on your job application. Indeed, if you are discriminated against based on what you look like, the company can get in trouble. They are not allowed to discriminate.

The whole concept of the John Casablancas Modeling School gets twisted because the marketing, as you recounted it, pitches education over looks. They have the cart before the horse, if you are familiar with the expression. Your face is your calling card, not a diploma.

Does every agency require advance training? No? Is there an industry standard? No. Why is that?

If there is any value in education for models at schools instead of through agencies after they are hired, it should come after an independent agency with no conflict of interest has agreed to sign them, not before.

If these schools were so valuable, then wouldn't other agencies send models to them after they were discovered? Do they? No? Why not?

I read or heard a rumour that a supermodel said you don't need to go to modeling school to become a model. I don't know if the rumour is true, but, at the same time, I don't know one supermodel who ever went to a modeling school, and I certainly don't know one who became a supermodel because she went to a modeling school.

What do modeling schools provide which you cannot learn in a book, from your mother, from the agency, or on the job? In other words, much cheaper or totally free.

This runway stuff is unreal. Runway modeling is such a small fraction of the total modeling work available in the modeling industry. Indeed it is reserved for a select few, relatively speaking, including supermodels.

How often are there fashion shows? How many models work at them? In Portland?

The point being if so few models are ever going to walk on a runway, why is it made into a central part of the curriculum at or the presentation after modeling schools?

And if that were not enough, runway modeling is hardly something which cannot be learned outside a school in a short time. It is not so complicated, and it's not so difficult. Put one foot in front of the other, and you're half way started.

Have you ever heard a model say, "Shucks. I was a model and they wanted me to be a fashion show model, you know, on the catwalk, but, uh, I just never figured out how to do it, so I lost the job. And I never became a supermodel."

It seems as if catwalking is added to the curriculum because it pumps the supermodel marketing concept and helps move the models right along like cattle at hyped-up events such as modeling conventions or model contests.

It could make the aspiring models feel like supermodels because they see most supermodels working on a catwalk at fashion shows. That image is burned into the mind by the media.

Now, it sounds as if you have already reached a conclusion about the John Casablancas modeling school, but if you have not, or you were going to do further research, it would be necessary to check all their specific claims.

You were told many of their models go on to work with Elite. Don't take their word on it. It would have to be confirmed by the main office of Elite in NY, not their office.

You were also told the agent booked out 90% of her clients. That success rate claim would also have to be substantiated, too.

The entire sales scheme as you experienced it looks very unoriginal.

There's the "I-shouldn't-do-this-but" line to make you feel special.

There's the "I-m-not-going-to-sell-you-anything" line, which somehow changes into "well-what-the-heck-maybe-I-will-after-all" correction.

Your plan to contact reputable modeling agencies is good. They will not have silly prerequisites to signing and they won't charge a signing fee. There will be a clear line showing they make no money until your children get work.

Redacted Info

First of all, I would like to thank you for putting the letter I wrote on your site. It wasn't until after I wrote it and read it on the web (which was a surprise, but a nice one), that I realized just how manipulating the whole experience was for me.

The 'agent' did in fact call me yesterday, and I told her that I was writing her a letter. When she asked what it was regarding, I expressed my feelings and my thoughts about her not being completely honest about her function as an agent.

I also told her that if she truly was an agent, she would be willing to work with my children, since I am aware that a real agent is not going to sign on a client that will not give them their commission.

Her response told me from where she really gets her money. She told me that it was POLICY. That she could not sign my children on unless I signed them up for the advanced modeling classes!

This was in complete and direct conflict with all she had told me. Again, I knew this was going to happen after I read the letters on your site, and wrote my own.

Thanks again for your helpful feedback.


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