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Zohre Esmaeli (born 1 July 1985 in Kabul) is a model, designer and author from Afghanistan. She lives in Berlin,[1] Germany and she was said to be the only international top model from Afghanistan in 2014.[2]

Zohre Esmaeli
Zohre Esmaeli 2cropped.jpg
Zohre Esmaeli, November 2011
Born 1985 (age 32–33)
Kabul, Afghanistan
Other names Sara Esmaeli
Occupation Model, designer, author
Years active 2001–present
Modeling information
Height 175.5 cm (5 ft 9 in)
Hair color black
Eye color brown
Agency Patron of the Arts,
CONMIA Model Management



Early yearsEdit

Esmaeli was born and raised in Kabul as the youngest of seven children. Her mother died when she was two of a traffic accident.[3][4] She has four brothers and two sisters. Like her sisters, as a girl, she could not attend a public school[5] but after pleading with her father he agreed that she could be taught by private tutors at home.[6][7]

Escape from AfghanistanEdit

When Esmaeli was thirteen years old her parents sold all their possessions and decided to leave Afghanistan to escape from the war and Taliban regime. Her father left Kabul with three of his children and his second wife on the load bed of a truck.[4] They paid a Russian people smuggling gang to bring them to Germany to join her brothers which already lived there. After a difficult 10000 km long journey over six months via Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Czech Republic[8] they crossed in 1999 the border to Bavaria. During the dangerous journey with long wintry walks through woods, rides hidden in train waggons and car boots Zohre Esmaili nearly drowned when crossing a border river in Slovakia.[9] They were imprisoned for several days in the Ukraine where she became seriously ill due to malnutrition and the bad hygienic conditions.[3] After arriving in Germany the family stayed first in three asylum seekers' hostels in Darmstadt, Schwalbach and Calden before they moved to their own flat in Vellmar near Kassel.[2][10]

Life in GermanyEdit

Zohre Esmaeli presenting Afghan fashion at the fashion show "Afghanische Nacht" in Bad Kreuznach on 5 November 2011 in support of the charity Afghanistan - Hilfe die ankommt (photo: S.Herler)

Zohre Esmaeli attended a comprehensive school and after an internship she wanted to pursue the career of an airplane electronics engineer.[11] Her school years have been difficult for her as she and her brother have been the only foreigners in the class at her first school and also after moving to Vellmar she was bullied at her school in Ahnatal.[2] Although now staying in Germany, her father and older brothers insisted on her living according to the Afghan tradition and had chosen a husband for her to marry. In order to escape from the family pressures and live according to her own wishes Zohre Esmaeli left at age 17 her family in spring 2003 and moved into a children's home. After 12 days she ran away and went into hiding in Zuffenhausen near Stuttgart living with the family of her then boyfriend. During her first year living there she did not have any contact with her family. Later Esmaeli established again a normal relationship with her father although she does not discuss her work at home.[6][10][12][13] Esmaeli speaks four languages, Dari (her mother tongue), Persian, English, and German.[7]

During three weeks in July 2013 a 4x5 meter large picture of Esmaeli could be seen by S-Bahn travellers in Düsseldorf on an empty windowless house wall which was painted by airbrush artist Andi Ponto. It was a birthday present of her boyfriend who lived in a house opposite of the wall.[14][15] By order of the house owner the painting had to be whited out by the artist.[16]

Her brother, Abdul Gharfour Esmaeli, is a cruiserweight boxer who started his professional career at the Internationale Box-Gala in Kassel in November 2012.[17][18]


When Zohre Esmaeli was 16 years old the then current Miss Hessen approached her during a shopping trip in a H&M store in Kassel and asked if she was a model and wanted to have photos taken.[9][12] She agreed and two days later she went to a model agency and started to do secret shootings without telling her parents. Her first shooting took place in Frankfurt. This, however, soon came to an end when her family found out and forbade her to continue.[6][11][19] About a year after she had left her family and moved to Stuttgart she resumed her modeling career. Her first big clients were the furniture manufacturer Bretz who made her the centre of a large advertising campaign from 2003 until 2007[20] and the German designer Manfred Bogner who featured her from 2007 in many adverts for his fashion line BONNIE[21] which were published in magazines like Vogue. Soon she appeared in other fashion and lifestyle journals as Elle, Cosmopolitan, Madame, Zink, Lounge, InStyle and Marie Claire. On 30 April 2004 Esmaeli took for Afghanistan[22] part in the Queen of the World beauty pageant in Munich.[23][24]

In 2006, Belgian designer Gerald Watelet discovered Esmaeli and she ran the catwalk for his label at the Fashion Week in Paris. She currently appears in fashion shows and photo shoots in New York, Paris, Milan and Berlin.[2][8]

In February 2014 Zohre Esmaeli published her book Meine neue Freiheit. Von Kabul über den Laufsteg zu mir selbst in which she describes her story, the situation in Kabul, the months-long flight from Afghanistan and her life as a refugee in Germany. Esmaeli works also as independent fashion adviser in Düsseldorf.[25]

Zohre Esmaeli designed her own fashion collection "Zoraya"[26] which was first presented at a charity fashion show on 13 November 2015 in Berlin to help raise funds for her new project "Culture Coaches" which supports refugees.[27]

Social engagementsEdit

Zohre Esmaeli works with several German charities. She supports the charity Afghanistan - Hilfe die ankommt e.V. in Bad Kreuznach by taking part in fund-raising events like fashion shows and is especially involved in their sewing project.[19][28] She also supports the international charity program Women for Women, which was developed by Dr. Marita Eisenmann-Klein, the Secretary General of IPRAS, the International Society for Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery and Dr. Constance Neuhann-Lorenz, the Chairperson of Quality Assurance of IPRAF, the International Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery Foundation[29]

In 2014 Esmaeli was made ambassador of the German Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency.[30]

Save SocietyEdit

Esmaeli is co-founder and ambassador[31] of the German charity Save Society which fights against discrimination. Other ambassadors of the charity are the German épée fencer Monika Sozanska,[32] runner Marius Broening, actress Vanessa Eichholz[33] and film producer Catherine Ackermann. Official supporters include the members of the German Bundestag Stefan Kaufmann and Hartmut Koschyk.[34]

Culture CoachesEdit

Based on her own experience as refugee[1][26] Esmaeli founded the project "Culture Coaches" to help the sustainable integration of refugees.[35] The project wants to give newly arrived families from the start an insight into German cultur and the values of German society by developing a bicultural didactics and a tutor team.[36] It is supported by the Bürgerstiftung Berlin,[37] a charitable foundation under the patronage of Wolfgang Thierse,[38] which was started 1999 by Berlin citizens.[39] The costs of the project have been raised by crowd funding[40] and through a refugee fundraising event on 13 November 2015 in Berlin[41][42] which raised the indented target of 40.000 Euros.[43]

TV appearances and radio broadcastsEdit

  • Guten Abend, RTL (TV, 12.2011)
  • Frank Elstner: Menschen der Woche, SWR (TV, 11.02.2012)
  • Couchgespräche, SWR-RP (TV, 19.11.2012)
  • glanz & gloria, SRF (TV, 22.05.2013)
  • WDR Lokalzeit, WDR (TV, 21.08.2013
  • Markus Lanz, ZDF (TV, 20.02.2014)
  • mittagsmagazin, ZDF (TV, 21.02.2014)
  • Eins zu Eins. Der Talk, BR Bayern 2 (Radio, 30.03.2014)
  • SWR1 Leute, SWR (Radio, 10.10.2014)
  • hallo deutschland, ZDF (TV, 12.11.2014)
  • Hart aber fair, ARD (TV, 23.02.2015)
  • So gesehen - Talk am Sonntag, Sat.1 (TV, 12.04.2015)

Music and film videosEdit

  • Swarm (2011, music video by Jens Hocher for Badmarsh & Shri, awarded the Intervideo - Young Talent award[44])
  • The Grief of the Wind (2011, short film by Jens S. Achtert)[45]


  • Zohre Esmaeli; Barbara Opitz; Kuno Kruse (2014) (in German), Meine neue Freiheit. Von Kabul über den Laufsteg zu mir selbst (1. ed.), Köln: Bastei Lübbe, ISBN 978-3-404-60772-3 


  • Zohre escaped (2013) 6.4.-14.4.2013 Pfaffenhofen, photos by Richard Kienberger[46]


  1. ^ a b Svenja Pelzel (7 October 2015). "Ich fühle mich entwurzelt" (Interview). Deutschlandradio Kultur. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Zohre Esmaeli: Vom Flüchtling zum Topmodel" (in German). Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine (HNA). 25 December 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Döhler, Christine (19 January 2012). "Früher trug ich Burker, heute bin ich Model!" (PDF) (in German). Grazia. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Keck, Reinhard (4 December 2011). "Das Model aus der Burka (Teil 1)". Bild. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  5. ^ Stöhr, Nora (4 April 2014). "Sie will anders und in Freiheit leben". Stuttgarter Zeitung. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c "SWR1 Leute" (Interview) (in German). Südwestrundfunk. 10 October 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "Frank Elstner: Menschen der Woche (Teil 1)" (Interview) (in German). Südwestrundfunk. 11 February 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  8. ^ a b "DRadio Wissen · Topmodel: Zohre Esmaeli". DRadio Wissen. Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  9. ^ a b Keck, Reinhard (4 December 2011). "Das Model aus der Burka (Teil 2)". Bild. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Barbara Opitz; Kuno Kruse; Benne Ochs (7 March 2013). "Zohres langer Weg ins Licht". Stern, No. 11/2013, pp 134-144 (in German). 
  11. ^ a b Rössler, Katrin (26 February 2012). "Cosmo TV" (Interview) (in German). Westdeutscher Rundfunk. Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  12. ^ a b "Frank Elstner: Menschen der Woche (Teil 2)" (Interview) (in German). Südwestrundfunk. 11 February 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  13. ^ "Vom Flüchtlingskind zum Top-Model: Zohre Esmaeli erzählt" (in German). Wochenspiegel. 25 November 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  14. ^ "Ein Wandgemälde als Liebesgruß" (in German). rp-online. 25 July 2013. Retrieved 14 March 2015. 
  15. ^ Gielen, J (9 July 2013). "Mieter soll XXL-Porträt von Top-Model überpinseln" (in German). Bild. Retrieved 14 March 2015. 
  16. ^ "Liebesgruß ist übermalt" (in German). rp-online. 25 July 2013. Retrieved 14 March 2015. 
  17. ^ Kittner, M. (27 November 2012). "Internationale Box-Gala in Kassel" (in German). Nord Hessen Rundschau. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  18. ^ Schaumlöffel, Ulf (20 February 2014). "Model aus Vellmar: Designerkleid statt Burka" (in German). lokalo24. Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  19. ^ a b "Couchgespräche, SWR Landesschau Rheinland-Pfalz" (Interview) (in German). Südwestrundfunk. 19 November 2012. Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  20. ^ "Beliebt und Begehrt" (PDF) (in German). Extra Tip. 27 September 2009. Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  21. ^ BONNIE advert
  22. ^ OLIVER LANG. "Miss Afghanistan Zohre Esmaeli takes par". Getty Images. Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  23. ^ Haase, Jana (8 May 2012). "Haarkünstler am Vulkan" (in German). Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten. Retrieved 14 March 2015. 
  24. ^ Belleza Venezolana, Noticias de Abril 22, 2004 (in Spanish)
  25. ^ " - Imageberatung, Modeberatung, Stilberatung, Stylist - NRW, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Köln, Leverkusen, Oberhausen, Neuss". 1 August 2010. Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  26. ^ a b Doreen Wilken (19 November 2015). "Premium: Aktiv für die Flüchtlingshilfe". fabeau. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  27. ^ "Fresh start for Afghan model" (Interview). Deutsche Welle. 20 November 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  28. ^ Afghanistan - Hilfe die ankommt: Unsere Näherei
  29. ^ "From dream to reality - Zohre" (PDF). Zeba Magazine, Issue 13. 27 August 2008. Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  30. ^ Runder Tisch der Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes zum Themenjahr gegen Rassismus
  31. ^ Save Society: Zohre Esmaeli
  32. ^ "Schöne Fechterin kämpft gegen Diskriminierung" (in German). Bild. 24 December 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  33. ^ Laszlo, Sonia (24 January 2015). "Integration ist unser aller Verantwortung" (in German). The Huffington Post. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  34. ^ Michael Pinteric. "SAVE SOCIETY - Die Organisation gegen Diskriminierung". Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  35. ^ Uschi Prawitz (29 September 2015). "Topmodel eröffnet interkulturelle Woche in Kulmbach". inFranken (Mediengruppe Oberfranken). Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  36. ^ "Taten sagen mehr als Worte: 5 unglaublich gute Flüchtlings-Projekte". OK! Germany. 12 November 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  37. ^ "Zohre Esmaelis Projekt Culture Coaches". Bürgerstiftung Berlin. 13 November 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  38. ^ Bürgerstiftung Berlin
  39. ^ "Bürgerstiftung Berlin: 15 Jahre Engagement für Kinder und Jugendliche in der Hauptstadt". December 2014. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  40. ^ "Culture Coaches - Akzeptieren, Verstehen, Miteinander leben!". Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  41. ^ "Anita Tillmann lädt Prominente zum "Refugee Fundraising"-Dinner ein". Berliner Morgenpost. 13 November 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  42. ^ "5 Flüchtlings-Charity Projekte die wir Ihnen vorstellen möchten". Grazia. 9 November 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  43. ^ "Erfolgreicher Fundraising-Abend für Zohre Esmaeli". Bürgerstiftung Berlin. 20 November 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  44. ^ "Swarm - Intervideo Nachwuchspreis". Intervideo Nachwuchspreis. Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  45. ^ Administrator. "The Grief of the Wind - Ein Fashion Film von Jens S. Achtert". Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  46. ^ "Zohre escaped – keine alltägliche Fotoausstellung" (in German). 8 April 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2015. 

External linksEdit