From Jamaica to the Parisian Fashion Scene: The Story of Model Tami Williams
At 30-23- 34, fresh-faced Jamaican Tami Williams is definitely an “It Girl,” with Dior, Valentino, Ralph Lauren, and Chanel shows already behind her. This is of course the Tami Williams, the first Caribbean model to represent the global fashion brand Calvin Klein. And yes, that was Tami Looking utterly fetching in a chartreuse pistachio gown for the Giambattista Valli 2018 couture collection. “Proud Jamaican” is how the model identifies herself on Instagram, where Tami has over 42,000 social media followers. As it happens, Jamaican models are undergoing something of a renaissance.
The present attractiveness of the Caribbean to modelling professionals comes in confluence with tough economic times. The latest unemployment figures for Jamaica – October – are less bleak than previous, but significant. In October 2017, unemployment in Jamaica was over 10%, still an alarming figure. But it is youth unemployment -- youth aged 14 to 24 years – that is alarming. One in four, or 25.4 percent of Jamaican youths are unemployed. And so the rise of Jamaican models in campaigns and on runways comes at a time when Jamaicans are embracing the profession as a chance to escape poverty. “Now the whole Caribbean is becoming a new space for people to scout, which wouldn’t have existed without this new wave of diversity,” James Scully, a casting agent, told The Times in September.
Tami Williams, who hails from the Black River community in St. Elizabeth, is at the head of the Jamaica delegation to fashion. Born in August 1998 she is the toast of the European fashion houses. And the Jamaican press are justly proud of the hometown girl, reporting on her every career achievement breathlessly and in loving detail. She has appeared in Vogue ten times. “(A) record for a Jamaica-born model,” The Jamaica Gleaner noted last Christmas Eve.
The model was born Shaekagale Shanicece Williams in Jamaica, then re-named, as the legend goes, Tami Williams. Tami was discovered by Saint International's CEO Deiwght Peters at the tender age of eleven. She stood then 5'8", but turned down the offer to model initially, because she wanted to grow.
And grow she did.
Two years later, Tami Wiliams won second place at Saint International's Fashion Face of the Caribbean 2012, and at that time began modelling in earnest. By then, she was 5’11’’and the world was, and still is, her oyster. “There has never been any Jamaican (or Caribbean model), whose ascendancy to true supermodeldom has been so profound, and at such lightning speed" a justifiably proud Deiwght Peters said of Williams to The Jamaican Observer.
Deiwght Peters took her under his wing, clearly aware of the rareness of a Tami Williams. Shortly after her success in the Caribbean, Peters ended up chaperoning her to New York to meet agents from Elite New York, where she eventually signed. “I remember being a little girl I would always dress up in my mom shoes, walk around the house while we had visitors or family and telling everyone how I’m going to model when I grow older,” she told Vogue Italia. “I was also that girl that always wanted to do someone’s hair.”
Tami Williams has not forgotten her roots. Her good friend Kai Newman was also discovered by Saint International, and often accompanies her on her gigs. “It’s so fulfilling to see people I consider my brothers and sisters working and succeeding [in fashion],” Williams told Vogue. “We’re trying to push and make our presence felt for Jamaican models, and for other black models as well,” added Newman.
Success has not changed Williams. And even though she is a regular at places like the Chanel Couture show inside the Grand Palais, wearing stylish grey houndstooth trousers, she is, at 19, still very much a Jamaican girl. And by Jamaica, we don’t mean Montego Bay. Tami is what can only be possibly construed as an around–the-way-girl (via, to be sure, the couture shows). She loves to return home to Jamaica’s untrammeled coast on Hellshire Beach. “Hellshire is the real Jamaica,” Williams told Travel + Leisure. “The way the restaurants here prepare their fried or steamed lobster and fish is out of this world. And then of course, you have to have a few (sweet fritters).” Of course.
That Tami comes from a country where more than half of the youth are unemployed, and is now thriving in the highly competitive cosmos of the international fashion industry. This is a testament to her toughness, luck and beauty. “Working with some of the top photographers, stylists, designers and getting to travel the world – it’s all so surreal,” reflecting on her life thus far, she told Vogue Italia.
There is also, one imagines, quite a bit of smartness involved with navigating such a career so early.