Cuba Culture

Despite Difficulties, Foreign Agencies Hire Cuban Models

Posted March 11, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Culture.

By Vito Echevarria | [url=][/url]

During Cuba’s economic opening in the early 1990s, a multitude of European publications fawned over the island’s beautiful young women. Magazines began providing extensive coverage of the unspoiled beauties living not only in Havana, but in slower-paced provincial towns as well.

The ensuing tourism boom, with amateur fashion shows put together on short notice at various hotels and popular nightclubs like “1830” along Havana’s Malecon, simply reinforced the potential appeal that Cuban models would have overseas.

Sooner or later, someone was going to set up an agency specializing in such models.
Canadian businessman Dean Bornstein, who has extensive TV and film production ex-perience, runs The Havana Company, a multimedia production outlet with offices in Toronto and Havana.

Bornstein’s agency represents 75 Cuban models, some of whom have been able to get work overseas. His large crop of local beauties — ranging from blonde hair and blue-eyed types to dark and lovely Afro-Cubanas — are often willing to work for far less than their counterparts in New York, Paris and Milan. As he told Cigar Aficionado magazine last May, “the talent is all here, it’s just a question of packaging and marketing it.”

In the United States, the full-figured “Latin look” is now in vogue, thanks in part to Hispanic celebrity Jennifer Lopez. However, the embargo against Cuba precludes any possibility of Cuban beauties getting work with U.S. modeling agencies. That lack of competition from New York and Miami explains the success of Bornstein’s Canadian outfit.
Bornstein himself was unavailable for comment, though according to his company website, the firm conducts casting services for various Cuba-related projects including feature films, commercials, music videos, magazines, print advertising and fashion catalogs, as well as other film and print media.
The site also asserts that The Havana Company is in the process of setting up a database of Cuban actors and models, as well as musicians, athletes and extras for future projects that require them.  As Bornstein told Cigar Aficionado, models lucky enough to land these assignments typically make around US$1,250 per day for a commercial fashion shoot, with an undisclosed amount going to the Cuban government.
Even for not-so-glamorous models, things aren’t so bad.
“You have very decent, very normal models in Cuba. You can pay them just $250 a day, said Christian Bengsch, owner of the German production company Take Me to Cuba.

“Their ‘connection’ gets a small cut of that money — the model keeps the rest.”
That ‘connection’ Bengsch refers to is an informal group of well-connected locals who use restaurants like La Maison in Havana’s Miramar district as a meeting point for models seeking work. Bengsch’s main Cuban modeling shoots were done for British and German catalogs.
“Last season, we did a big job with Mercedes-Benz,” he told CubaNews. “We had security. We had five or six models, top-notch. The [Mercedes] car for the assignment was flown to Cuba. A famous actor from Cuba was even involved.”
Although the fees paid by these agencies pale in comparison to the $10,000-plus per day fees common in New York or Paris, the money these models take home is still a fortune by Cuban standards — not to mention the international exposure and potential for more lucrative jobs, should they get visas to emigrate from Cuba.
As Bornstein said, the appreciation these models have for gaining such prestigious work influences the conspicuous absence of “prima donna” attitudes prevalent among U.S. and European models — a welcome change for talent scouts in search of new faces.
Bornstein’s website notes an interesting summary of modeling assignments and TV ads previously done in Cuba with Cuban fashion models. These include Omo detergent (for Danish TV), Nescafe (for Australian TV) and Axe body spray (for French TV).
Print ads shot in Cuba have appeared in Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, Petra and Allegra magazines, and Spain’s Vanguardia newspaper, as well as catalogs for the Madrid department store chain El Corte Ingles.
Besides The Havana Company, a modeling agency called Habanatopia is now being formed. Founder Romulo Sans, a Spaniard, told CubaNews in a recent e-mail that he does not want to provide details for the time being.
As dynamic and catchy as it may sound for such modeling outfits to go to Havana and scout out attractive new faces on the cheap, there are some big negatives. These include bureaucratic red tape, a lack of infrastructure (which complicates production crews’ ability to process film and equipment) and the ever-present “police-state” environment.
These and other problems cut into tight deadlines, which are often not respected in Havana.
One prominent Italian photographer, Fabio Fasolini of Milan’s Studio FP, has worked with 20 to 30 Cuban models over the years.
Fasolini told CubaNews he’s found himself having to work around the island’s stifling police presence. “When I had problems with the Cuban government, I solved these situations alone,” said the photographer, who’s done shoots in Cuba for cosmetics maker Lancome and various European magazines.
Indeed, the local police usually suspects prostitution or other illicit activities when beautiful Cuban women are seen publicly with foreign men.
While photographers like Fasolini and modeling agencies have to grapple with local conditions in Cuba, the best hope for up-and-coming Cuban models is to travel to Europe to pursue their dreams.
Jean-Luc Brunel, owner of Paris-based Karin Models, did some photo shoots of Cuban models in the 1990s. He said that Europe is now the only alternative for these girls, due to restrictions stemming from the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
“They cannot come to the U.S. on a work permit,” he said. “America is 50% of Karin’s business. “Even for those who can go to America, the whole process is very long.”

Member Comments

On April 19, 2004, Gai Young wrote:

Press Release
For Immediate Release
From:  Gai Young
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
On June 19, 2004 Just Us Plus will hold the 14th Annual Model Search
Competition to help raise funds for Almost Famous Talent Management.  Just Us Plus is looking for full figured women who are over 18 years old and wear sizes 12 through 26.  If you are interested in pursuing a career in the modeling industry please call to schedule your audition.  Audition dates available are April 27th, 28th, and 29th.  5:00pm to 8:00pm. 
The audition will be held at the Woodridge Apartment Club House, 3901 Noyes Circle, and Randallstown, MD.  (Directions take 695 get off Randallstown exit 18, go west, keep straight right turn on Tiverton Road and the next corner will be Tulsemere make another right, keep straight and you will see the clubhouse on your left.)

*Please bring a picture and wear heels so you can walk for the Just Us Plus staff.
The prizes will be $500.00 in cash and one-year career counseling with
Almost Famous Talent Management.  Just Us Plus will offer you opportunities to appear in fashion shows, and also the top three winners will appear on the upcoming television show, “A Fuller Life”. Judges from other organizations that specialize in full figured modeling industry.
Almost Famous Talent Management is a nonprofit organization that helps people to obtain a career in the entertainment industry.  We will have successful actors; models and agents that will host workshops, expos and seminars for people who want to learn more about the industry.  For people who have financial problems we will provide headshots and travel expenses so that they will not miss out on opportunities.
Please contact Gai Young at 410-466-7119,
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address),
or Sandy Watters at 410-624-3193, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


On May 08, 2004, Aline Reizian wrote:

I was wondering if there is any way of contacting Mr. Dean Bornstein

On January 16, 2008, marc therriault wrote:

i would like to have a site for cuban models with photo please!!!(woman specialy)

On April 18, 2009, Jarett Lezdey wrote:

I would be interested in Female Cuban Models who can work in the US.  I own several businesses including a clothing line as well as a skin care company.  We would be looking for 2 girls to be spokes models at trade shows as well as print and possible television spot.  New product with a campaign launch in the fall.  We can provide room and board state side and are willing to train.  If you can help me out with an ad placement that would be great.

On April 18, 2009, publisher wrote:

Look in Miami for Cuban American models.

Cuban women can’t leave the country for the most part and you wouldn’t be able to hire them if they could due to the US Embargo.