Karen Elson (born 14 January 1979 in
Oldham, Greater Manchester, England) is a British model and singer. Her
trademarks are her red hair and her eyebrows, which fashion photographer
Steven Meisel once persuaded her to shave off.
Elson has walked the runways of many top fashion designers including Marc
Jacobs (which she did while pregnant), Jean-Paul Gaultier, Chanel, Dolce &
Gabbana and Versace. She has appeared in international campaigns for Yves
Saint Laurent, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Christian Dior,
Burberry and Chanel, to name a small number. She has also been on the
covers of many international magazines such as Vogue, W, Dazed & Confused,
Numéro, Marie Claire, Elle, and others.
In 1998 she won model of the year at the VH1 fashion awards (the year
after Kate Moss won). In 2005, Elson won the British Fashion Award for
Best Model, over fellow catwalkers Lily Donaldson and Danny Beauchamp.
Elson has been quite vocal about how damaging the fashion industry can be
to young women.
She has appeared in many short films and videos, including the music video
for The White Stripes's "Blue Orchid", directed by Floria Sigismondi. She
has also appeared in fashion films such as Cyril Guyot's Tom Ford Is
Missing, Steven Meisel and Darren Lew's War Opera, Nick Knight's Andy
Warhol-inspired series More Beautiful Women, Craig McDean's 48 Girls,
Thomas Lenthal's Yves Saint Laurent Printemps-Été 2006, Tim Walker's
Pictures, and Bruce Weber's Petit Fleur, Harlequin, Voodoo Daddy, Closer
Walk With Thee and Karen's Boogie (all films were made in conjunction with
W as a tribute to New Orleans). Elson has been featured in commercials for
Max Azria's BCBG line and Kose cosmetics. She has also appeared in the
short film Lay Down Lean, a project by the experimental filmmaking team
The Belles Of The Black Diamond Field.
Elson has contributed to Nick Knight's fashion site SHOWstudio.com since
2002. Among her contributions is a video of her singing Danzig's "Devil's
Plaything" with Melissa Auf der Maur at the Chelsea Hotel. She also
contributed to Knight's project "Moving Fashion" with a black and white
video of herself in a sequined gown, perched upon a swing. The images were
accompanied by Elson playing the autoharp and singing a verse of Marlene
Dietrich's "Falling In Love Again."
As of October 23, 2008 Elson has been managing a vintage boutique in
Nashville, Tennessee with Venus & Mars' Amy Patterson. The boutique is
called Venus & Mars- The Showroom and features "high end rare vintage
garments and adornments to cheap and cheerful vintage dress and jewels.".
In 2010, American fashion brand St. John announced that Elson would be
replacing Angelina Jolie as the new face of their company. She is
currently the face of YSL Opium perfume.
Karen has mentioned in interviews that she had always been interested in
music, but after becoming a model at age 16 she found it more difficult to
dedicate any time to it. However in 2003 she contributed backing vocals to
a remix of Robert Plant's "Last Time I Saw Her" off of Plant's album
Dreamland. She briefly dated James Iha from the Smashing Pumpkins and the
pair had recorded a couple of songs but they were never released. In 2005
a personal recording of Elson singing was made available on a CD
accompanying the August 2005 issue of Uncut magazine (the song was titled
"Coming Down"). The song was choose by REM singer Michael Stipe It wasn't
until 2006 that Elson received attention, singing the provocative "I Love
You (Me Either)" with Cat Power on Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited, a
tribute album to French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.
Elson is currently a creative director and performer with the New York
City based political cabaret troupe The Citizens Band, appearing with them
at various nightlife hotspots as well as the downtown power-house gallery
Deitch Projects. Critical response to Karen's performances have been
unequivocally positive, with the press frequently commenting on her
striking vocal skills. As one of the leaders of The Citizens Band she has
performed a variety of songs including well received covers of The Velvet
Underground, Kurt Weill, Elvis Presley, Mimi and Richard Fariña, Pete
Seeger, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Marlene Dietrich. Her cover of The
Velvet Underground's "Candy Says" is available on The Citizen Band's
MySpace page. Short samples of her performances are available on the
troupe's website as well.
In July 2008 she accompanied She & Him during a live show in Nashville,
Tennessee, performing "Tennessee Waltz" alongside Zooey Deschanel.
She also contributed vocals on David Pajo's Francie's Song under the alias
As a child, Elson attended North Chadderton School in Chadderton with her
twin sister, film maker Kate Elson.
Elson met Jack White when she appeared in The White Stripes music video
for "Blue Orchid". The video's director, Floria Sigismondi noted "you
sensed an energy between them." Just one month later on June 1, 2005 in
Manaus, Brazil they married. The wedding took place in a canoe in the
Amazon River and was officiated by a shaman. A Catholic priest later
blessed the ceremony. Official wedding announcements curiously stated that
"it was the first marriage" for both. The White Stripes's manager Ian
Montone served as best man while drummer Meg White was the maid of honor.
On May 2, 2006, the couple had a daughter, named Scarlett Teresa White.
Their second child, Henry Lee White, was born on August 7, 2007. In the
announcement, White's publicist confirmed that the children's last name
was White, not Gillis. This caused a minor stir amongst fans and in the
media considering the surname belongs to White's ex-wife and bandmate,
Meg. The family now reside in Nashville, Tennessee.