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Natalie Westling is painting fashion red

updated 11:24 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Natalie Westling, 17, is being called fashion's new "it girl" model and "one to watch"
  • Westling is walking in London Fashion Week this week; she walked in New York as well
  • New York legislature now classifies models under 18 as child performers
  • Westling dyed her hair red for the Marc Jacobs spring 2014 ad campaign

(CNN) -- Natalie Westling should be soaking in the last vestiges of her teenage years. For her, that would mean bringing out the vert ramp after school and skateboarding until dark.

These days, the only thing she's boarding is another flight to Europe.

This Fashion Week season, the 17-year-old model is being dogged by phrases like "it girl" and "one to watch" that are being tossed around by industry insiders.

This week, she's across the pond in London walking for Jonathan Saunders and Giles and will soon be off to Fashion Week events in Milan. These appearances come on the tail of spring ad campaigns for high fashion houses Saint Laurent and Red Valentino.

"Every job that I get, I feel so honored," she said. "Because yes, there are so, so many models that would die to be in my position on that set, doing that shoot."

CNN Living will be on the ground as designers showcase their fall 2014 collections at New York Fashion Week from February 6-13. While there's plenty of action on the runways, there's plenty going on backstage as well. A makeup artist works her magic before the FTL Moda + Art Hearts Fashion, a show that celebrates Italian style. CNN Living will be on the ground as designers showcase their fall 2014 collections at New York Fashion Week from February 6-13. While there's plenty of action on the runways, there's plenty going on backstage as well. A makeup artist works her magic before the FTL Moda + Art Hearts Fashion, a show that celebrates Italian style.
New York Fashion Week: Off the runway
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New York Fashion Week: Off the runway New York Fashion Week: Off the runway
CNN Living will be on the scene (and backstage) as designers showcase their fall 2014 collections at New York Fashion Week from February 6-13. J. Mendel, under creative director Gilles Mendel, debuted his fall collection on the last day of Fashion Week. CNN Living will be on the scene (and backstage) as designers showcase their fall 2014 collections at New York Fashion Week from February 6-13. J. Mendel, under creative director Gilles Mendel, debuted his fall collection on the last day of Fashion Week.
New York Fashion Week: On the runway
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New York Fashion Week: On the runway New York Fashion Week: On the runway
The colors you'll be wearing in 2014

But the Arizona-born teen wasn't always so keen on the idea of modeling, despite her mother's urging that she had something rare, that elusive je ne sais quoi.

"I was such a skater, tomboy girl that I was like, 'that will never be me,' " she said. "I was definitely anti-girly girl, makeup, fashion, all that."

Less than two years ago, fate stepped in wearing stilettos: Westling was scouted in her home state by the Agency Arizona. Shortly after, a representative from the Society, now her agency in New York, came out to scout her for a bigger market.

Last summer, Westling was flown out to New York to try her hand at Fashion Week. But, as the end of the week approached, she hadn't booked a single job.

"It was like, 'OK, I don't know anymore, nothing is really working out,' " she said.

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Then, she got the call for the Marc Jacobs "exclusive" -- meaning she would open the show. It's the fashion equivalent of a high school baseball player getting the call from the Yankees.

Fast-forward five months, and the laid-back skater girl says that modeling, however unlikely, is her focal point. (Though she does, admittedly, get antsy after a while getting her hair, makeup and nails done and redone for each show.)

"People think we stand in front of a camera for 30 seconds and that's our day," she said. "In actuality, we work really, really hard, and a lot of the money we earn, we earn it."

For her, that means shape-shifting from 17-year-old tomboy to high fashion archetype.

Westling, who describes her natural hair color as a "dirty blonde, auburn mix," first dyed her mane a shocking "Little Mermaid" red for the Marc Jacobs spring 2014 ad campaign, which also just happens to feature controversial star du jour Miley Cyrus.

"I think it's cool. It's perfect to be able to stand out," she said.

With her neon tresses, Westling walked in shows for Prabal Gurung, Vera Wang, Anna Sui and Marc Jacobs during this month's New York Fashion Week.

"A lot of (designers) were surprised. A lot of them didn't like it, but I didn't really care," she said. "When it comes to certain shows, obviously, this color wouldn't match the clothing, and it wouldn't look good, so I understand getting canceled for shows or not getting picked for shows."

That tinge of teenage rebellion is working for Westling, who is in high demand. Her breakout success comes at a pivotal time, as New York legislature passed a bill in November that deems models under 18, like Westling, child performers. Among the stipulations: Models must obtain a permit to work in the state, employers must also be certified to employ the young models, and child performers must get 12 hours of rest between jobs.

Still, Westling is growing up fast in the high-stakes fashion world.

"You drop off the teenager side of you and just go full-force into modeling and make it into a career and pursue it for a while," she said.

It's a work ethos she credits to being raised by older parents, who still live in Arizona: Her mother had her when she was 43.

"My teenage years were like when I was 10," she joked.

"It helps me in this industry, because you have to act mature, take responsibility for yourself, because no one else will."

See all of CNN Living's New York Fashion Week coverage.

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