It’s been less than a year since 18-year-old Leila Spilman left Summit County to travel around Europe as a model. Since then, she’s spent time in multiple countries, skied the Alps, been featured in photo shoots and met all kinds of people from the modeling industry. Now, she’s back in the U.S. and in addition to continuing with modeling, she’s working on new projects, building a network and making a name for herself.
Born in New Mexico, Spilman grew up in Breckenridge, spending her time on outdoor recreational pursuits as most kids do in the mountains. She attended Summit High School and it was partway through her senior year that her modeling career took a sudden leap forward.
After participating in Aspen Fashion Week, she traveled to New York, where she was scouted and picked up by multiple international agencies. They wanted her to do a European tour that spring, right when she would have been graduating.
Fortunately, Spilman was able to work with her high school counselors and teachers to make sure that she could still graduate while taking advantage of the opportunity.
“When you have that support, you can definitely make things happen, so it was no problem,” she said.
She was able to take care of several elective credits while on her European tour by filming the work she was doing, editing it and emailing to her teachers.
“We got really creative with coming up with actual ways that would benefit me while I was traveling,” she said.
This summer, after the European shoots were finished, Spilman returned to Breckenridge to receive her diploma and spend a few days relaxing after the hectic pace of an international modeling job.
“We made it happen, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of my school and counselors and teachers, and the county really, as always,” she added.
A whole new world
Spilman’s tone while speaking of her time in Europe conveys the pure excitement of the experience. She did a variety of shoots, including the Ann Taylor Loft campaign and modeling for Vogue in Istanbul.
“It’s been really great,” she said. “You work with lots of great photographers.”
She also happened to be in Paris during Haute Couture week, an event full of enough celebrities and big names to make any fashion fan girl think she’s in heaven.
Some days, she’d spend less than 24 hours in one country for a photo shoot before flying back to another one. While it was certainly hectic, she was still able to enjoy the chance to see so many places.
Amidst all the glamorous European cities and big events, Spilman said she enjoyed meeting new people the best. This included top models, photographers, agents, fashion designers as well as young models such as herself.
Fortunately, it wasn’t all work and no play, and Spilman was able to take some vacation time. She spent it as most girls from Breckenridge would — on the slopes.
“I would jump back and forth from hanging out in the Swiss and French Alps,” she said of her favorite places in Europe. She added that the Alps “were unreal. It was really, really great.”
Skiing has long been a part of Spilman’s life and she used to do it competitively. Although her modeling career has recently taken priority, her skiing has not been ignored. She’s still involved with sponsors Smith Optics and Fatypus, and managed to pick up a new sponsor in Switzerland.
“I’m curious to see how I can grow and combine all my passions into one,” she said. “I’m not ready to let go of my roots and my skiing, and I’ll always ski, but I definitely took it down a notch.”
Although she’s working with a few agents, much of what Spilman has been doing recently has been completely self-directed. She has a plan for where she wants to go and she’s been using social media to get it. And it’s been working.
“Using social media has been a huge, huge part of my career,” she said, citing Facebook and Instagram as examples of ways she’s contacted fashion industry people and made professional connections.
“This is an industry that you can’t wait for everyone to do everything for you. If you want to go anywhere, you need to do it for yourself. You can definitely have people that help you, but you can’t rely on anyone to help you. You have to do a lot by yourself.”
Doing things on her own isn’t something that Spilman shies away from. She’s used to it, because she’s been doing it all her life. Spilman’s ambitious, can-do attitude hearkens back to her childhood, which she says was a difficult one, in and out of foster care, living with neighbors and taking care of herself.
Now, Spilman is taking those experiences and using them to push her farther along in her career. This applies not only to her take-charge approach to the fashion industry but to the book she plans to publish sometime next fall.
“I think the book will really translate now with me trying to make a name for myself. People start to think, ‘who is this girl? Who does she think she is?’ … It’s like, well, read about it!” she said with a laugh. “It’s really interesting. I’m really excited about it.”
Spilman started working on the book about five months ago and has hired an editor to help. She hopes the book can simultaneously tell her story and allow others to realize they can start their own.
“This book, I think, can really connect and inspire and put in perspective a lot of different things for a huge audience,” she said. “It’s not just to get my story out there, it’s also to connect and inspire and share that.”
Keeping her roots
Despite everything that’s happened in such a short amount of time, Spilman takes care to remember where she came from and admits that she often misses the small community feel of Breckenridge and all the people she’s grown up with in Summit County.
“It’s great to have that as your roots and it really keeps you grounded and true to yourself too, when you come from such a pure beautiful place and surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful energy. Everything about the mountain towns is beautiful,” she said. “Breckenridge will always be there. That’s such a reassuring feeling because you know that. You can leave, but you can always come back.”
To learn more about Leila, visit her website at www.leilaspilman.com.
“Breckenridge will always be there. That’s such a reassuring feeling because you know that. You can leave, but you can always come back.” - Leila Spilman