For Gastown locals, it’s a common sight; for others, it may come as an unexpected surprise. Creatures, ghouls, bald headed aliens, sprites and fairies slip into laneways and alcoves, a photographer in tow, parading and showing off their transformations. These otherworld beings are students from the makeup artistry program at Gastown’s John Casablancas Institute – one of the foremost schools of its kind mentoring students in hair art design, body & spa esthetics, fashion and beauty makeup, fashion design and business and makeup artistry.

Hundreds of students come from near and far to make magic in the 17,000 square foot facility. The feeling of heightened creativity is palatable within the many floors, rooms, workshops, design studios and salons of JCI Gastown. And in the centre of all the making and doing is James Falconer, president and owner.

We met with James in his office and later toured the facility. His gentle demeanour and kind nature covers a fierce business prowess – Mr. Falconer came here when it wasn’t the Gastown we now all know and love. He saw something that others didn’t and planted his roots accordingly with enough faith and persistence to see them flower abundantly.

Simply experiencing what these talented students are capable of shows us how supportive the environment at JCI Gastown is and indeed how adept be the headmaster at keeping it that way.

How did you get here?

I started working for a gentleman in Calgary in 1981 who owned a number of JCI schools and talent agencies in Southern California and in western Canada including one in Vancouver. John Casablancas is a franchise with locations throughout the US, Canada and Internationally. I moved to Vancouver in 1988, and a year later, my wife Lori (who’s also my business partner) and I, bought the JCI franchise originally located at Richards and Dunsmuir. As soon we sealed the deal, we started looking for a new location – a more hip and happening area of the city with character and vibrancy. We secured the space here at the Leckie Building in 1991 and Lori and the staff thought I was crazy to move everything here. Gastown back in the early 90’s was not the desirable location for business that it is today. I saw the neighbourhood as having a New York feel. Our competitors went with an LA, West Coast vibe and we went with a New York, Manhattan, Soho vibe.

Why does Gastown seem to attract a large amount of artists and creative people, perhaps more than anywhere else in the city?

I think people feel a sense of warmth being around exposed brick and aged wood, and creative people in particular seem to value an environment rich in history and character. Gastown has become a very hip and cool destination. It wasn’t always like this. Transformation takes time and over the decades, like-minded creatives, risk takers and entrepreneurs have continued to flock here. The neighbourhood has changed dramatically since the 90’s and it’s now the only place to be in the city.

What sets JCI apart from other institutions/schools offering similar instruction?

We’ve always offered a less sterile and more caring environment in which to learn in and the building and location play into this. We believe that our students feel very supported and cared for and not treated as just a number. We work on a close and personal basis with our students, fostering growth and maximizing their potential. The area fits in with how we do business. It’s a place where people want to be.

JCI Gastown has grown and expanded considerably in recent years. What’s been happening here at the Leckie Building on Cambie Street?

When we first moved in, we had one unit on the main floor with 5,000 square feet and we now have 17,000 square feet with studios on the lower level and on the fourth floor, along with the entire ground level dedicated to our expanded spa, hair and makeup courses.

Our fashion design courses now include fashion business essentials, where students gain valuable tools to succeed in the industry.

A recent blog post on titled: JCI MAKEUP: 7 GRADS TO FOLLOW reported that JCI Gastown makeup grads are being noticed on Instagram and some are getting up to millions of followers. Where do grads go after Gastown? 

Makeup has the highest number of social influencers after celebrities and models. We’re really lucky that some of the top makeup artists on Instagram are grads from JCI Gastown. They are quite talented people and all we have done was help them to develop their creativity. We also have a number of micro fashion influencers who are growing steadily on social media. Many of these grads begin working immediately in professional settings as they have already began establishing their talents via social media. A strong social following can go a long way.

What do you like about working in Gastown?

Just look at it. It’s the best place in the city to work. The ocean is close by and there are views of the mountains and the North Shore. Walking the cobblestone streets and feeling the creative energy vibrating throughout the neighbourhood is a daily experience and something I truly value. The retail has come alive so the shopping is fantastic and so are the restaurants. It’s everything really. What’s not to like about it?!

What’s next for JCI Gastown?

We’re still working on expanding our programs, refining and adapting to an ever-changing industry. We renewed our lease so we’re not going anywhere. We love it here and have no complaints. Gastown is a wonderful place to live, work and study in and there are always new things to discover here each day.