By Sara Templeton
Karen Elson (top)
stuns with her striking
red hair and cobalt blue eyes, and (above)
features in an energetic Dior
Kids can be terribly cruel. I know; I was oft picked on during
my tenure as a school student. "Saggy Sara" they
Little snot gobblers.
Someone who I'm sure can relate to this is top model Karen
Elson, but that's about all we've got in common - oh, and
a shared appreciation of the rock band The White Stripes.
"At school I got harassed so badly for being too tall,
too thin, too pale - too everything that has gotten me where
I am now, which is quite ironic," says Elson, who has the last laugh now.
Though I wasn't quite as fortunate as Karen to be blessed
with the aerodynamic body of a top model, it's amazing how
many of today's premier cat walkers suffered as children.
And people wonder why half of them are nuts and resort to
self destructive behaviour...
Karen Elson was born in Britain, in the county of Bolton
on January 14th, 1979. As she mentioned, she was a very skinny
young lass at school, and together with her red hair was the
target of much mockery. But as time went on and she reached
puberty, she started to take on more womanly proportions,
and by the age of 16 a modeling scout expressed interest
in the Boltonian.
The chance to be revered by millions tickled Karen's sense
of adventure, and she decided to move from Bolton to the big
smoke, Londinium as it was called by the Romans in millennia
The naturally radiant young model found the going tough in
London, with contracts few and far between, yet the fires
of ambition were well and truly stoked and she refused to
wilt, and so moved once again, this time to the French capital,
Paris - oui, oui!
Her French experience wasn't the career-starter she had hoped
for, nor even a stepping stone as it turned out. Depressed
and lonely, she lived in a cruddy little flat near the red
light district with only an army of cockroaches to keep her
Understandably, the yet-to-blossom teenaged model moved yet
again, this time to a place as far removed from Europe as
one can get, where everything from the food to the culture
to the language was entirely foreign. But it worked!
Karen had heard that tall models with red hair were in demand
in Nihon, otherwise known as Japan, and boarded an aeroplane
for Tokyo. After getting her bearings in the Land of the Rising
Sun the contracts started to flow.
Her Asian experience gave the 17-year-old British model a
newfound positivity - anyone who has been unemployed for extended
periods knows it can be a difficult psychological pit to crawl
out of - and her next stop was Milan, followed by Zoo York.
Arriving in New York prior to her 18th birthday, Karen -
who is also an aspiring vocalist - didn't explode onto the
fashion scene in the bustling Big Apple right off the bat.
She was finding work as a model, though perhaps not in the
capacity she was hoping for.
But that all changed when a meeting with well-respected photographer
Steven Meisel took place, which resulted in a reputation-swelling
feature in Italian Vogue magazine. With more people saying
'You!' than 'Who?', Karen Elson decided to change her look,
shaving her eyebrows and trimming her fiery hair short, which
helped her secure the front cover of Italian Vogue. And as
I love saying, the rest is history!
in New York, Karen worked with many prominent fashion houses, such as
Valentino, Gucci, Chanel and Versace, and she also branched out into
music as well, providing vocals for Robert Plant's song "Last Time I
Saw Her". She's a big fan of rock music, so previous relationships with
the likes of James Iha (from the Smashing Pumpkins band) before
she got serious with Jack White of The White Stripes makes a lot of
sense. Karen Elson is a very busy girl these days: in addition to her
modeling work, she took on the role of creative director (and sometimes
performer) with The Citizens Band, a cabaret troupe with a strong
To cut a long story relatively short, Karen consummated her relationship with Jack
White on June the 1st, 2005, when they were wed. The amazing wedding was hosted
on a canoe cruising down the piranha-infested Amazon River
in Brazil, and the betrothal was solemnised by a shaman priest and later blessed by a Catholic priest.
about her life as a model, Karen is brutally honest. "Being a model
ain't a hard life," she says. "Models get dissed. People are so
critical of you. If I'm out
at night and someone asks me what I do, sometimes I just don't answer."
clear that Karen Elson has encountered a lot of hostility in her rise to the top of the modeling world, which is
indicative of the catty fashion industry where vanity rules: "If I say anything, I'm in
such a public place that people will always want to bring me down. More
than anything else, I want to prove to myself that I can
do something well. I don't really give a damn what anyone else thinks."
It was quite a journey for the young model, and from being
teased as a school student for not adhering to physical norms
one has little control over, to becoming one of Britain's
most promising and unique models, Karen Elson is a beacon
of light for young women everywhere. Some people still call
her a little strange, and maybe she is is some ways.
But perhaps it's time to celebrate 'strange'...