A slight accent and good manners gave away Josilyn Williams’ Southern roots as soon as she arrived at WWD’s Midtown offices, when she apologized profusely for being just a few minutes late. The 21-year-old model, repped by DNA, moved to New York three years ago after being discovered at a shopping mall in Alabama. Since then, she’s appeared in numerous editorial layouts in Teen Vogue, Numéro, V, Elle Italia and Marie Claire U.K., among others, in addition to walking the runways for designers such as Acne, DKNY, Vivienne Westwood and Peter Som.
Though she’s grateful for having experienced different facets of the business — runway and editorial — Williams prefers the latter. “I’m kinda shy in general,” she said. “I keep to myself, so shows freak me out a little. They’re really hectic. On one of my first runway seasons, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off to castings, fittings. It was a lot to deal with.”
Her self-described shyness, however, does not preclude personal sharing on social media. “Instagram is like…life,” Williams said (it’s a phrase she continued to use throughout the interview). “I’m always taking selfies.”
WWD: How did you start modeling?
Josilyn Williams: I was discovered in Alabama. I got scouted four hours away from where I live at a shopping mall in Birmingham. It was a contest — I didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was a scam.
WWD: So you had hesitations about it?
J.W.: Yeah. I can’t say that I wanted to be a model at first. I was 16 or 17 when I was scouted. They asked, “Are you interested in modeling?” I said, “No, I want to be a teacher.” I already thought I knew how everything in my life was going to fall in place.
WWD: And then you made the move to New York.
J.W.: My mom said, “You can always come back to Alabama. Just see if you like it.” I signed with DNA before I actually moved to New York. I moved here when I was 18, after I graduated high school. When I first got here, I was nervous. But after my first real photo shoot, I was, like, “Wow, I actually kind of like this. I can get used to this. This is fun.”
WWD: What were your first impressions of the city?
J.W.: It was a big eye-opener. Everything is completely different. Everything is really slow in the South, and everyone knows each other. When I came here, no one was really greeting me as nicely [as I was greeting them]. I was like, “Oh, okay.” I had to get adjusted. But now it’s cool.
WWD: What’s your life like now?
J.W.: I live in Midtown. I lived in a model apartment when I first moved here, but now I’m in my own place, thank God. My family and everyone at home is “Team Josilyn.” They see all the pictures. At first, my dad said, “No, I don’t want you to go to New York.” But now they come and visit. It’s fun. They love it here.
WWD: What do you like to do in your spare time?
J.W.: I’m a foodie. I used to take culinary arts classes for two years back in Alabama. I really like cooking. I like the whole art of it. And I love to eat.
WWD: Is there a particular modeling job you’ve done that stands out among the rest?
J.W.: I went to Jamaica and shot Marie Claire U.K. It was amazing. I thought, “Wow, this is life.” I had never been there before. It was so beautiful, I didn’t even feel like I was working. I took it all in and had a great time.
WWD: In what ways has this career changed you?
J.W.: I think it’s matured me a lot. I feel like I’m more well-rounded and more cultured. And I’ve become more interested in fashion now. There’s not much fashion in Alabama [she laughed].
WWD: What have you found to be most challenging?
J.W.: The fact that you can be “in” one moment and then it can completely change tomorrow. You never know what’s “in” and what’s not “in.” It’s always changing. It’s hard to stay ahead of it. I just take everything with a grain of salt. It is what it is. At the end of the day, it’s a business — that’s just how you have to think about it.
WWD: What are your thoughts on diversity in the business?
J.W.: There are so many different looks out there — so many different girls. It’s really becoming diverse. You see a lot of girls, and you think, “Is she really a model? I didn’t know that you could look like that and be a model.” There are so many different types of beauty.
WWD: Are there any models you look up to?
J.W.: If there’s anyone I look up to, it would probably be Joan Smalls, only because to an extent, we’re kind of going in the same direction. I’m really commercial and she is, too, but overnight, she blew up. She got someone to change their mind and to see her in a different way, and I look up to her for that. I think that’s so cool.
WWD: What are your dreams?
J.W.: V.S. [Victoria’s Secret] I think it’s every girl’s dream. That would be a “wow” moment. That would be…life.