Name: Robin Williams
Agency: Seeking Representation
Claim To Fame: Williams has appeared in Vogue Italia, Harlem Fashion Week, and Softsheen Carson Reunion Hair Show. She founded Bowtie Behavior and was the lead model in the Emeli Sande “Sparrow,” video and has had roles on Power, Younger, and Orange is the New Black.
People pleaded with Robin Williams to try modeling as a teen but she was hesitant. “I was kind of being pumped up to do it,” she told HelloBeautiful. A shy but focused girl, she spent her time on athletics instead. Once she graduated and began to pursue higher education in the DMV area she became comfortable with the idea. “Once I got the confidence up to do it, I decided to go to my first casting. I believe I was like 19 or 20,” she said.
Williams had no connection to the industry and no insight about how to reach out to agencies so she started seeking out opportunities on the internet. She used Craigslist to find castings. “This was 15 years ago and Craigslist wasn’t as sketchy,” she recalled. She was connected to a Facebook group where models shared information and encouragement shortly.
“They would pass on things that they heard,” she said. “Some models don’t like to share castings and information, but I luckily had a group of models where we would like to share.”
“All black women in the DMV and we all supported each other,” she added. Williams used her contacts to book a series of jobs but after a few years she began to feel typecast due to her athletic build, and masculine presentation. “The one thing that I did find though is that a lot of people wanted me to just do like very strong, like Grace Jones type photoshoots,” she said. She was never put forward on campaigns that looked to present a “soft,” or “feminine,” perspective. She didn’t mind avant garde themed work but she wanted the chance to be placed in commercial campaigns.
Being pigeonholed stocked her existing insecurities. “I’ve always struggled with feeling like feminine and not fully feminine enough. And so when I would always get type cast for like Grace Jones, hard, tough punk rock. So the things are just like, ‘Okay, I guess this is what I’m going to be doing.’ But I always have had the dream to be more mainstream or commercial to like break through into that industry,” she said. Others inability to see her in different spaces impacted the way Williams saw herself. “So when I moved back to New York city and I would go to like New York Fashion Week castings and things like that. I felt like, ‘Okay, well, they’re not looking for me.’ You know? They’re looking for someone else that looks more mainstream.”
She developed the wellness initiative Redefining Soft to connect with others who might feel sequestered by gender expectations. During panels discussions and other events she and those involved discuss “how the word soft is used as a weapon towards masculine presenting, lesbian and trans men and how basically how that population is treated in relationships and at work.” Williams turned her attention away from beauty and presentations and towards the runway. She described the experience as “fun, but very intense.”
“You wait online for maybe two, three hours. I’ve waited as long as seven hours to get in. And then your audition is like five seconds long. so yeah, very intense, but you learn a lot,” she continued. Off the runway, she worked with a professional development program that provided her the flexibility to pursue modeling. She booked Harlem’s Fashion Week, and appeared in a Vogue Italia and a spread in Who Wore What in between shifts and curating events for Redefining Soft.
She got a break when a model she met when starting out informed her of a chance to star in an Emeli Sande video. “It was one of my friends that I met in Maryland from that model group. I had done a hair show with her years prior and she said, ‘Hey, I’m working with the casting director, who’s casting for this celebrity music video. I can’t say the celebrity right now, but I think you’d be a good fit submit your pictures.’ And so I submitted the next day they called, they contacted me back.” Williams booked the gig but the casting director didn’t see her as a potential star. She spent hours sidelined until a director committed to diversity insisted on seeing something else. “So we’re just sitting there and then the director storms back into like where the wardrobe area is,” she said. “She’s just like, ‘Why do you guys keep sending the same girls back here? Everyone line up.”She insisted on seeing all of the models and selected Williams from the bunch. In the clip she is standing directly behind the singer. The experience led to a series of walk-on roles on television shows and proved she was capable of going mainstream after all.
She advises models not to give up when they don’t find access right away.
“Other people can overlook you, but if you’re what the director or casting director is looking for, then they’ll find you.”