Karen Elson

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Karen Elson
Karen elson1.jpg
Elson performing in New York City in 2010
Karen Jill Elson

(1979-01-14) 14 January 1979 (age 43)
Oldham, Lancashire, England
  • Model
  • singer-songwriter
Years active1995–present
(m. 2005; div. 2013)
Modelling information
Height1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)
Hair colourRed
Eye colourBlue
AgencyIMG Models (New York, Paris, Milan, London)[1][2]

Karen Jill Elson (born 15 January 1979) is an English model and singer-songwriter.

Early life and education[edit]

Elson was born in Oldham, Greater Manchester, and attended North Chadderton School as a child. She has a fraternal twin sister, filmmaker Kate Elson.

Modelling career[edit]

Elson was discovered at age 16 by Debra Burns, the owner of Boss Model Management in Manchester. She began modelling locally and left Oldham a year later. Steven Meisel photographed Elson for the cover of Italian Vogue on her 18th birthday, thus launching her career worldwide. She has worked with most of the world's major fashion photographers and fashion designers, including Arthur Elgort, Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Peter Lindbergh, Mert and Marcus, Steven Klein, Patrick Demarchelier, Helmut Newton and Ellen Von Unwerth.

Elson's runway modelling credits include: Marc Jacobs, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Tom Ford, YSL, Alexander McQueen, Dior, Anna Sui, and Gucci.

Elson has over 30 magazine covers to her credit—international editions of Vogue, W, Dazed & Confused, Numéro, Harper's Bazaar (British), Marie Claire, Elle, Lula, Foam, and Nylon. In September 2008, Elson was on the cover of British Vogue as "Fashion's Red Queen".

In 1997, Elson won the title of Model of the Year at the VH1 Fashion Awards. The September 2004 cover of American Vogue featured her as one of the "Models of the Moment".[3] In 2005, she won the British Fashion Award for Best Model.

It was then announced that Elson was the new face of British department store John Lewis for autumn/winter 2008–09. In the autumn of 2009 she appeared on billboards internationally for H&M.

Elson models at an Anna Sui show in 2011.

She has been in ad campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Christian Dior, Burberry, Trussardi, Roberto Cavalli, Lanvin, and Chanel. For the Tom Ford 2009 spring eyewear advertising campaign, she was photographed, for the first time, by Ford himself.[4] She was the 2010 face for American fashion brand St. John[5] and Karen appeared with sister Kate in the 2011 H&M Holiday campaign. That same year, she was part of Banana Republic's 2011 Holiday Collection. Her cosmetic advertising credits are YSL's Opium perfume and Kose Cosmetics.

Elson is currently the face of Jo Malone London and represents them worldwide.[citation needed]

Elson has appeared in many short films and videos, including the music video for the White Stripes song, "Blue Orchid". She has also appeared in fashion films: War Opera,[6] Nick Knight's Andy Warhol-inspired series More Beautiful Women,[7] Craig McDean's 48 Girls,[8] 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).[9]

She acted in the short film Lay Down Lean, a project by the experimental filmmaking team Belles of the Black Diamond Field.

Elson has contributed to Nick Knight's fashion site SHOWstudio.com since 2002. 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."[10]

In 2010, she modelled a Patricia Field dress for the Sex and the City Archive in the Naomi Campbell's Fashion for Relief runway show for the White Ribbon Alliance, an organization aiding mothers in Haiti.

Elson has designed her own line of shoes, bags and jewellery for fashion brand Nine West.

Elson was one of eight British models chosen to walk during a segment at the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony. She wore a gold gown by Burberry and walked the stadium with her fellow models to David Bowie's song "Fashion."[11]


Elson is a founding member and performer with the New York-based political cabaret troupe the Citizens Band, appearing with them at various theatres as well as the downtown art gallery Deitch Projects since 2004. Critical response to Elson's performances have been unequivocally positive, with the press frequently commenting on her striking vocal skills.[12] As one of the leaders of the Citizens Band she has performed a variety of songs including covers of the Velvet Underground, Kurt Weill, Elvis Presley, Mimi and Richard Fariña, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Marlene Dietrich. She has also written and co-written songs for the troupe's performances. Her cover of the Velvet Underground's "Candy Says" is available on the Citizen Band's MySpace page.[13] Short samples of her performances are available on the troupe's website as well.[14][15]

Elson performing at Rough Trade East in 2017

Elson contributed backing vocals to a remix of Robert Plant's "Last Time I Saw Her" from Plant's album Dreamland in 2002.[16] In 2005 a personal recording of Elson singing "Coming Down" was made available on a CD accompanying the August 2005 issue of Uncut magazine. The song was chosen by REM singer Michael Stipe.[17] She sang a duet with Cat Power of "I Love You (Me Either)" for Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited, a tribute album to French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.[18]

Her first full-length album was written, for the most part, in secret without letting her then-husband Jack White hear what she was doing. "At home I would hide—I would play my songs really in isolation. I would lock the bathroom door and hide. Eventually he was like, 'Why are you hiding this from me?'".[19] Elson released her debut solo album The Ghost Who Walks in May 2010, via White's label, Third Man Records. It received generally favourable reviews. Spin magazine gave it 7/10 and compared her voice to both Jenny Lewis and Loretta Lynn. Elson and her band performed on the Late Show with David Letterman in September 2010.

Elson has recorded numerous cover songs throughout her career including "Season of the Witch" by Donovan (included in the HBO TV series True Blood episode "If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin'?"), "Vicious" by Lou Reed (released for Record Store Day 2011),[20] "Milk and Honey" by Jackson C. Frank (released for Record Store Day 2012),[21] "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" by Buddy Holly (for the tribute album Rave on Buddy Holly), "Gold Dust Woman" by Fleetwood Mac (for the album Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac),[22] "If I Had a Boat" by Lyle Lovett (in closing credits of the 2014 movie Still Alice)

In September 2012, she was featured in a campaign called "30 Songs / 30 Days" to support Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a multi-platform media project inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's book.[23] Fringe included Elson's song "The Ghost Who Walks" on their season 4 episode "A Better Human Being".

Elson opened for Neko Case in October 2013, for eight shows in Case's North American tour.

Her second solo album, Double Roses, was released in 2017.[24] Her third, Green, was released in 2022.




  • Radio Redhead, Vol. 1 – 2020

Personal life[edit]

Elson has two children with her former husband, American musician Jack White. Elson and White were married in 2005 and divorced in 2013.[26]

She is an ambassador for Save the Children and has travelled to Sierra Leone, the Middle East and the Ivory Coast. She has written numerous articles and appeared on CNN in regards to her advocacy for child rights. In 2020 she published an autobiography, The Red Flame, in which she details her childhood eating disorder, her courage to stand up to harassers, and more.[27]

Elson resides in Nashville, TN.[28]


  1. ^ "Karen Elson". IMG Models. Retrieved 8 May 2020.
  2. ^ "Karen Elson". models.com. Retrieved 5 February 2020.
  3. ^ Lee, Helen (11 April 2007). "Vogue's 'World's Next Top Models' cover". SassyBella.com. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
  4. ^ Scheidnes, Jean (3 February 2009). "Tom Ford, Lensman ..." Women's Wear Daily. Fairchild Fashion Group. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  5. ^ [1] Archived 12 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ War Opera, directed by Steven Meisel and Darren Lew[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ "''More Beautiful Women'', directed by Nick Knight". SHOWstudio. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  8. ^ "''48 Girls'', directed by Craig McDean". SHOWstudio. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  9. ^ "''W'' Presents: Bruce Weber's New Orleans". Wmagazine.com. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  10. ^ "Moving Fashion- "Falling in Love Again"". SHOWstudio. 17 October 2005. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  11. ^ "Kate Moss, Georgia Jagger, & Karen Elson Have An Olympic Model Moment". Popsugar.com. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  12. ^ ""Welcome to the Citizens Band" in ''Paper'' magazine (2006)". Papermag.com. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  13. ^ "The Citizens Band on MySpace Music". Profile.myspace.com. 26 July 2013. Archived from the original on 23 January 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  14. ^ "Elson performing "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier" in the Citizens Band's "The Trepanning Opera"". Thecitizensband.net. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  15. ^ "Elson performing "A Hundred Years From Now" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" in the Citizens Band's "Chewing Up the Scenery"". Thecitizensband.net. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  16. ^ ""Karen Elson" by Sara Templeton". Webwombat.com.au. 14 January 1979. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  17. ^ "Elson's "Coming Down" on ''The REM Collection Disc 2: Michael Stipe Presents ...''". Eil.com. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  18. ^ Elson's duet with Cat Power, "I Love You (Me Either)" on Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited Archived 21 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ ""Karen Elson" ''Interview Magazine''". Interviewmagazine.com. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  20. ^ KAREN ELSON – Vicious (7" BLACK VINYL) Archived 8 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ KAREN ELSON – MIlk and Honey (7" VINYL) Archived 31 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "New Fleetwood Mac Tribute Includes St. Vincent, Best Coast, and More; Hear New Pornographers Do "Think About Me"". Pitchfork.com. 18 June 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  23. ^ "Half the Sky". Halftheskymovement.org. 30 August 2012. Archived from the original on 14 October 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  24. ^ "Official Karen Elson". Karenelson.com. 7 April 2017. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  25. ^ "Double Roses by Karen Elson on Apple Music". Itunes.apple.com. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  26. ^ "Jack White, Karen Elson Throw Divorce Party on Sixth Anniversary".
  27. ^ Abrams, Melanie (12 October 2020). "Karen Elson on Body Shaming, Nudity and Speaking Up for Herself". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  28. ^ "Tour Karen Elson's Elegant English-Inspired Nashville Home". Architectural Digest. 8 March 2017. Retrieved 24 October 2022.

External links[edit]