A Model Liar The Gucci Prankster Tells His Tale

Juan Isidro Casilla managed to outwit a Swiss newspaper and place a fake Gucci ad with himself as the model. It wasn't his first prank -- he has already pretended to be a popsinger and to work for a famous circus. Now he claims he has a new job as a fashion model.


Juan Isidro Casilla in a Gucci ad he made himself and sent to a newpaper.

Juan Isidro Casilla in a Gucci ad he made himself and sent to a newpaper.

On that last big day before his cover was blown, Juan Isidro Casilla sat in a cafe near Zurich's town hall, by the Limmat River. It was a Sunday morning, and he opened his newspaper and saw pictures of himself.

There he was in full color, across a double-page spread, his naked torso on display, his full red lips surrounded by stubble, a deep look in his brown eyes, advertising Gucci perfume. Juan Isidro Casilla thought he looked great.

A graphic designer would probably have noticed that the bottle of perfume and the writing looked a little blurry and were strangely positioned just above his biceps. The advertising professionals at the Swiss weekly Sonntagszeitung -- which has a circulation of 202,000 and charges up to 60,000 Swiss Francs (€36,442) for a double-page spread -- didn’t notice anything. He had succeeded once again.

Casilla had created the ad on his computer at home, and had mailed it to the newspaper after the deadline on Friday afternoon. Saying he was Andrew Watson from Gucci, he ordered a double-page ad for the coming Sunday. No one seemed suspicious that the note was full of spelling mistakes. The publishers of Sonntagszeitung say that these types of mistakes have become the norm these days.

And it didn’t seem to bother anyone that the e-mail address he gave, which ended in gucci.com didn’t work -- he could be called on his mobile. There wasn’t enough time to check if the ad was real, and it looked OK.

When the prank was exposed a few days later, Casilla was suddenly a hero. He was praised for being a Robin Hood, an avenger for the little people. The fact that he had managed the same scam with two other newspapers, as an Armani model, was all the sweeter.

An editor at the Sonntagszeitung even praised the prank as "fantastic." Casilla appeared on a talk show on Swiss TV, wearing a tight T-shirt and exuding a youthful charm. Speaking Swiss German with a Spanish lilt, he apologized and smiled. Later that night when he visited one of the city's gay bars, he was slapped on the back. But Casilla was never really a hero.

Sitting on a black sofa in his two room apartment in Zurich, he could be anything between 22 and 25 -- it's hard to tell, and you can't believe a word he says. He claims he owns an apartment in New York, that his sister is a famous singer called Thalia. He says he was just in Las Vegas and Barcelona and at the Oscars -- he tells a lot of tall tales.

He was born in the Dominican Republic. That at least is true, and he came to Switzerland as a child when his mother married a Swiss man. His stepfather didn’t like him, Juan was gay, and there was trouble at school, so he ended up in an orphanage. He was a lovable rogue even then.

It was then that Juan decided he would rather be someone else, a famous artist or a singer. He practiced trampoline jumping and he was a big fan of Chayanne, a Latino superstar. He began to train as a cook at the IBM canteen in Zurich, but he was always arriving too late and eventually got fired.

In his fantasy he was always someone else. When he met men in clubs or on the Internet he would introduce himself as the singer Chayanne. He even sent them CDs including fake booklets with his face on them.

Then he started making appearances as Chayanne, for example in the summer of 2003 at a Zurich gay club. He printed posters of himself as the singer and there are even music videos on the Internet with him lip-syncing Chayanne songs. Sony BMG had to send warnings to event organizers -- they have a thick file labelled "Fake Chayanne."

Sometimes, for a change, he was John Gallagher, the "director of the accessory department," at the famous Cirque du Soleil. He met the sales director of a textile factory online and ordered a jacket with the circus logo, but never paid the bill of 2,000 Swiss Francs.

He never seemed to get into enough trouble to be stopped. Last autumn, he made his first attempt to place a fake ad in a gay magazine and was arrested, but the next day he was released. He now owes the publishers 100,000 Swiss Francs for the fake Gucci ad, but they are being careful not to seem like spoilsports. They just say they'll send him a bill.

Casilla says there are two Juans, and one of them belongs in therapy. He even promises that he will go into therapy -- absolutely. That was a few weeks ago. Since then he has commented on a blog. He claims that he now has a real modeling contract -- in Paris and Milan.


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