Karen Elson is one of the most special models of the mythical era in which a term had to be coined to baptize the mannequins who became stars. The daughter of a carpenter and a supermarket clerk, this British woman was discovered while walking through Manchester by a Hugo Boss scout and, from that moment, her life changed radically. From Manchester to Paris and from Paris to Milan, New York, Japan… Elson became a supermodel when being one meant grabbing covers , campaigns – not just fashion – and being surrounded by an incredibly profitable media network. She was the red queen of fashion, an appellation that responded to her red hair.
Some of her colleagues have explained the good and the bad of that unique time that made a group of women the closest thing to rock stars. Claudia Schiffer , for example, explained: “I remember needing four bodyguards to get to Chanel backstage from my car. And that not only happened to me, but to all of them ”. Now times have changed. Karen Elson, who is currently 42 years old, lives in Tennessee and is the mother of two children, knows from her own experience how necessary it would have been in her career to have someone to guide her along the way and that is why she is dedicated to mentoring for younger models, a role that she considers "very necessary", as stated in a recent interview in The Times .
Born in Oldham, North West England. She began to walk at the age of 15 and it was in Milan where her face began to be recognizable, especially after starring in a cover of Vogue Italia for which she was portrayed by the well-known photographer Steven Meisel with a transgressive image, because of her pale complexion and His fiery hair was joined by a fully plucked eyebrow. Soon after, Karl Lagerfeld also chose her to be the face of Chanel and said of her: “She is the embodiment of the beauty of the new millennium.”
Now, from her home in Nashville, she has spoken loud and clear about the dangerous situations at which what young models face and how little is done to prevent it despite the fact that problems with body image and bullying have been on the table for some years. "There are many mental illnesses, addictions, depressions and exhaustion in the fashion industry and cases of eating disorders are another problem faced by models," he told The Time s.
She herself struggled with eating disorders and anxiety since she was a teenager. Like many other young women in her opinion today, Elson was continually faced with comments about her weight and even claims that she was ugly . Karl Lagerfeld himself described her as a "mutant from another planet" when he hired her for Chanel, and Elson says today that he meant it even though he sold it as a term of endearment. At school, another girl told her that she was not worth even as a sock model and the same fashion press that praised her described her as “freak”, a word that means from crazy to monster or abnormal.
But at 18 she appeared Steven Meisel in his life and the well-known makeup artist Pat MacGrath, who was the one who decided to shave his eyebrows for the cover of Vogue , and fashion labels and magazines surrendered to his red hair. "But it was confusing and humiliating," he explains, "because what they were saying was 'this girl looks funny, she's ugly but we like her.' He also hates the normality with which he speaks in his profession of doing a detox, which is nothing more than stopping eating when there comes an important moment in front of the public such as the MET gala or the Oscars ceremony. Nashville's Carla Bruni
Karen Elson explains that before each Fashion Week she went on rigorous diets but no matter how much weight she lost, she was never thin enough for anyone. In his view, adolescent models are literally "torn to pieces" in publicity sessions and "smashed to the lowest levels." "Fashion fetishizes androgynous and prepubertal bodies," says the model, "and that was expected of me," whether healthy or not. "Until I said 'no, I can't do this anymore.' It has taken me years to be at peace with my body ”, he concludes. And he adds: “When I started I had the body of a teenager. The moment it naturally started to fill in, the negative comments started. They make fun of you for transforming you into a woman and I think that only a very strong person would not feel affected by it. ”
With these statements he does not mean that the world of fashion is bad, nor does he want to generalize. Elson says: "The fashion industry has given me an incredible life but it is a double-edged sword." That is why he works to address all these demons and ensure that those involved can discuss their experiences, find help and support. He does not claim to have the answers, but he does at least state that the problem exists and that means can be found to address it. His two cents, to manage this and also the lack of financial transparency, is a mentoring program that he has created on social media where they share their experiences and encourage others to do so.
Karen Elson during a musical performance in July 2005 In New York. Patrick McMullan / Patrick McMullan via Getty Image
For her, her turning point came when she was the mother of her first daughter, Scarlett, at age 26. "I clearly saw my relationship with food." The following year she gave birth to her second child, Henry, both with Jack White of the musical group The White Stripes . The couple married in 2005 and although they divorced in 2013, they maintain a cordial relationship and jointly raise their two children. She lives in Nashville and says that being away from New York or London helps her because she is out of the usual fashion scene on a daily basis. She is concerned about the example she sets for her children and considers that continual dieting was not exactly a positive image for them. The fame of her parents is also another of the things that they have had to overcome in their education and in that sense she does not hesitate to send a compliment to her ex-husband: “You have to give Jack [White] the value he deserves. He is a really good father and the antithesis of what people think a rock star father is. ”
Who walked for Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Lanvin, Prada or posed for Burberry, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton or the Pirelli calendar She has also tried her luck as an entrepreneur and opened a Nashville vintage clothing store called Venus and Mars: The Showroom in 2008. In 2010 he even dared with music and released his first album , The Ghost Who Walks, an album with which he toured many countries around the world. Despite her concerns as her daughter can still rummage through her wardrobe and find many vintage Chanel garments, Karen Elson, the red queen of fashion, sums up her current life like this: “A Range Rover and if possible a little muddy. That is now my happy world. ”