From the Lou to LA


Photo courtesy of Isabella Leon

Malayna Vines, features writer

At 12 years old, Isabella Leon, sophomore, was 5-feet-10-inches tall with waist-length, dark brown hair and eyes to match. While living in Los Angeles, California, her look got her noticed in a CVS, an Office Depot and several restaurants by people who would ask ‘Are you a model?’

“There were agents and scouts coming up to me saying ‘You should do this,’” Isabella said. “I felt like the opportunity was there and I should take advantage of it. The fashion industry has always been something I’ve been very interested in, so modeling seemed like a good starting point.”

When Isabella was in fourth grade she started traveling to Los Angeles with her mother, Audrey Griffith, and her brother, Drew Leon, on school breaks because Drew was interested in acting. During the summer of 2012, both her brother and mother decided to move there permanently to pursue Drew’s acting aspirations. Isabella continued living in Kirkwood with her step-father until the summer of 2013 when she decided to make the move to Los Angeles as well, after completing sixth grade at NKMS.

“When we first went out there, it was a lot of trial and error because we didn’t know anything,” Griffith said. “We just knew it was the place to be for opportunities for anything in the artistic field. People were coming up to Isabella saying ‘Here’s my card.’ We had to do research to make sure they were legitimate, then soon enough it just started from there.”

After one of her first photo shoots, Isabella was contacted and eventually signed by Wilhelmina Models – Models and Talent Management Agency. She then began going to more photo shoots and walking in runway shows.

“My first runway show was definitely an experience and I was really excited,” Isabella said. “I had to get there several hours early to get my hair and makeup done. When the moment came for me to walk down the runway, I wasn’t too nervous because it felt a lot like being on stage at a dance performance. I got a huge rush of adrenaline and I
loved it.”

The rush began when Isabella started dancing at age 3. She said her dance background has made walking on runways and being in front of a camera easier because it has made her more aware of her body.

“Modeling is a dance,” Isabella said. “When you step out on the runway, it’s a performance.”

Because of her inconsistent schedule in Los Angeles, she attended a charter school for kids working in the entertainment industry. The school provided flexibility for students’ complicated schedules and let them work at their own pace.

“Working in the industry is difficult too,” Isabella said. “People think models have an easy life. You have to have a lot of mental stability because people criticize you. You just have to stay confident and true to yourself and to who you want to be.”

After three years of living and modeling in Los Angeles, Isabella and her family decided to move back to Kirkwood. Griffith said they did not need to live in Los Angeles, even though that is where her daughter’s career began.

“She was at a point with having an agent in Los Angeles, New York and now the Midwest and Chicago, that home could really be home base since her career required a lot of travel anyway,” Griffith said.

Although her zip code has changed, Isabella is still modeling and will travel as she secures jobs and as her school schedule allows. She said she is also interested in
participating in Film Club, Art Club and KH Players at KHS.

Asha Zein, sophomore, has been good friends with Isabella since elementary school. The two stayed in touch while she was in Los Angeles through texting and FaceTime.

“She has definitely become more outgoing and opinionated,” Zein said. “I’m very proud of her because it’s hard to pick everything up and move somewhere else to start a life and then come back and try to continue with what you had before. She’s done a good job balancing everything and I’m happy for how she got to follow her dreams and her career.”