Headlines as hemlines

An Ocala-based model gets crafty with costuming.

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted February 14, 2024 | By Lisa McGinnes

Esha Shah [Angela Ofalt]

Internationally published model Esha Shah describes herself as “always up for an adventure.” Since 2021, she has lived full time in an RV with her husband, James Smithson, and their eight cats. After visiting multiple states, the couple has been traveling around Florida for the past year, settling in Ocala when Smithson took a job here last summer.

“It was amazing traveling all around and seeing the beauty of different places,” Shah said. “I travel for my modeling, but we are based in Ocala. I am just very happy to be able to be here and to have ended up settling in this wonderful little community. We love the area. It’s a wonderful place to be able to disconnect from the crazy modeling life and connect with nature.”

Originally from the Midwest, Shah has worked professionally as a model since she signed with a Louisville, Kentucky modeling agency at age 14. She has represented well-known brands including Churchill Downs, Family Video and Planned Parenthood, and, in 2023, she became a Playboy bunny.

Esha Shah [Melissa Barnes]

Now 21, Shah poses for photographers from all over the globe, but she especially enjoys collaborating on projects that allow her to add her own creative touches.

“I love putting my own flair into it always,” Shah said. “Growing up, I was involved in everything artistic, so that just kind of translated when I started modeling, incorporating my other artistic stuff with it. I love doing creative projects.”

One of her favorite photo shoots was in August 2023, when she had the chance to conceptualize, construct and model a bikini top adorned with seashells for a beach photography session on Florida’s gulf coast.

“I love seashells, and I am a very avid collector of them, especially when I live near the ocean,” Shah said. “We had gallon buckets of seashells and I thought it might be cool to have a mermaid idea with a seashell top, so I decided to put that together.”

Toward the end of 2023, when Tampa-based photographer Melissa Barnes of MMB Photography mentioned a photo series she had seen by Evensen Photography in Brazil featuring a dress crafted from newspapers, Shah was inspired. She took the idea and ran with it, sketching concepts and ultimately deciding two dresses with two models would be twice as much fun. She brought in Tampa-based model Jordan Stevens and the team identified a stunning location in a field of flowers south of Ocala.

“We decided to take inspiration and make it our own. It was very cool,” Shah said. “I took a lot of time to think about how I wanted to do it. I had a rough sketch drawn out, and then I was playing with different shapes and ideas and I figured out that the fan was really cute for the top. And then for the bottom, I did layers of ruffles with newspapers underneath and put the bigger, flowier pieces on top so that it had volume. I was just playing around trying to see what looked good and what I liked. It was a fun, creative project for both of us to let our creative sides out as well as add to our portfolio.”

Esha Shah and Jordan Stevens [Melissa Barnes/MMB Photography]

For the Jan. 28 photo shoot, Shah reached out to the “Ocala Gazette” and obtained a stack of newspapers from publisher Jennifer Hunt Murty. Then, with the help of her husband, she spent close to 10 hours constructing two custom-fit, newspaper ball gowns on a dress form.

“We took all day Saturday to make it,” Shah explained. “I used newspapers, tape, ribbon and some fabric, paper and craft glue. I made the skirt and the top semi-adjustable so that we could tie it in the back. I made it strong enough so that it would last through the shoot. The last shot we took was us running through the flower field and, during that one, all the bottom newspapers were tearing off. It was really funny and we had to go collect our trail of newspapers.”

Afterward, Shah remembered, Stevens asked her if she was sad that the dresses could only be worn once.

“I was like, ‘No, it was totally worth it,’” Shah said. “I was very, very happy and it was definitely worth all the effort it took just for these photos. It was amazing.”

Shah is already planning her next creative collaboration with Barnes, which they hope to photograph later this month.

“We’re making a dress out of Polaroid pictures of the work that she and I have done in the past,” she revealed. “It won’t be anything as extravagant as this one; it will be more of an overdress with a giant train made of Polaroid pictures. That will be really cool.”

To see more of Shah’s creative modeling projects, follow her at instagram.com/eshasworlddd.

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