Leah Ziegenhorn, a 17-year-old Shalimar girl, recently appeared as a model in various shows at New York Fashion Week and Coastal Fashion Week in Atlanta, Georgia. She has also modeled in South Walton Fashion Week and shows in major cities throughout the region, such as in Mobile, Georgia; Pensacola, Destin, Panama City and more.
SHALIMAR — Life is a runway for Leah Ziegenhorn.
The 17-year-old model strutted down the catwalk at New York Fashion Week in September and Coastal Fashion Week Atlanta this month. Before that, the only fashion shows she walked in were the ones she hosted in the Shalimar home where she has grown up.
“Me and my friends used to play dress up in my mom’s closet,” Leah said. “Her shirts were dresses on me, so I’d clomp around in her heels and her shirts and put on little fashion shows. Her room’s in the back of the house, so down the hallway, through the living room, around the kitchen, and then back, change, do it again. We announced ourselves and everything.”
Leah walked in her first real runway show at 14. She remembers it as large and bustling.
“I was the youngest girl there,” Leah said. “Little 14-year-old me didn’t know what was happening. I had two lines and I walked back to back. As soon as I came offstage, all these random people started stripping me down and getting me dressed, and that’s kind of when it clicked, ‘Oh my God, this is what it’s like.’ ”
Leah's mother, Anne Ziegenhorn, loves watching her daughter follow her dreams.
“She came to us when she was 12 or 13 and said, ‘I want to be a model,’ — just definitive,” Anne said. “I have the belief you don’t limit a child on what they want to do. Don’t bash their dreams. They can do anything they put their mind to.”
Anne's friend in the fashion industry pointed out Leah has a unique look.
“She took some pictures of her, and she said, ‘Look,’ and instead of my little girl, what I saw was, ‘Holy cow, she transforms in print,’ " Anne said. "That’s exactly what they look for. You can look at her and she looks like a 17-year-old girl, but her photos don’t.”
Leah has modeled in ads, appeared in commercials, been an extra in major movies and walked in runway shows wearing everything from a fur swimsuit to a wedding dress or a prom gown — even a plastic bag. One sartorial statement she loved wearing on the runway was a long striped dress by fashion designer Tara Skelley. At 5-foot, 9-inches, Leah Ziegenhorn often ends up modeling long dresses, she said.
“It weighed like 25 pounds easily, but it was so comfortable,” Leah said. “It almost looked similar to a T-shirt dress, but it was a tank top. It was this huge, went down to my ankles, 25-pound piece of fabric.”
Modeling isn’t easy.
“The trick is not tripping,” Leah said. “Some of the posing we do is not comfortable. Heels are not comfortable. You really have to love what you do. I enjoy being in the atmosphere, meeting all of these different people and seeing how other people view things and get to design their own clothes. You really get to see how people react under pressure when you’re scrambling and something goes wrong.”
Leah has cheered in many competitions with the Fort Walton Beach all-star team Beach Elite Senior Tsunami, so she’s accustomed to the pressure. She draws much inspiration from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which she grew up watching. “Future Victoria’s Secret model” is written next to a picture of Leah in her baby book.
“Naturally, I go toward the peppy Victoria’s Secret quick walk,” Leah said. “But for the shows I walk in, they want you to walk slow and you can’t smile. I’ve been told to slow down.”
It turns out, no one can slow Leah down. She is a cosmetology student now, but hopes to pursue modeling full time as an adult.
“In my opinion, she did well in the beginning, but I truly believe over the past year she’s mastered her art,” Anne said.