Karen Elson (born 14 January 1979) is a British model, singer-songwriter and guitarist.
She began working as a model as a teenager and was discovered at age 16 by the owner of Boss models in Manchester. Elson's success came when Steven Meisel shot her for the cover of Italian Vogue on her 18th birthday. She has worked with most of the world's major fashion photographers and fashion designers, including Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Peter Lindbergh, Mert and Marcus, Steven Klein, Patrick Demarchelier, Steven Meisel, Ellen Von Unwerth. She has walked the runways of many top designers including Shiatzy Chen, Marc Jacobs (which she did while pregnant), Jean-Paul Gaultier, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, YSL, Alexander McQueen, Dior, and Gucci. She has appeared in international campaigns for dozens of designers including Yves Saint Laurent, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Christian Dior, Burberry and Chanel.
Her list of magazine covers include multiple international editions of Vogue as well as W, Dazed & Confused, Numéro, British Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, Elle, Lula, Foam Magazine andNylon. In 1998 she won the title of Model Of The Year at the VH1 Fashion Awards. Photographed by Steven Meisel, she was presented on the September 2004 cover of American Vogue as one of the "Models of the Moment". In 2005, Elson won the British Fashion Award for Best Model.
In September 2008 Elson was on the cover of British Vogue - shot by Nick Knight - as "Fashion's Red Queen". It was then announced that Elson was the new face of British department storeJohn Lewis for Autumn/Winter 2008/2009. In the Autumn of 2009 she appeared on billboards internationally for H&M.
In 2010, American fashion brand St. John announced that Elson would be replacing Angelina Jolie as the new face of their company. In 2011 she was replaced by Kate Winslet. For the Tom Ford 2009 spring eyewear advertising campaigns Elson and male model Jon Kortajarena were photographed, for the first time, by Tom Ford himself.
Elson is currently the face of YSL Opium perfume. She appears in the Fall/Winter 2010/11 ad campaign of Louis Vuitton along with Natalia Vodianova and Christy Turlington, as well as the Trussardi 1911 Spring 2011 campaign. She was shot by Mert & Marcus for Roberto Cavalli's Fall 2011 campaign. Karen appears in the Steven Meisel Fall 2011 Lanvin campaign. The accompanying promotional video shows her dancing with Raquel Zimmerman to Pit Bull's "I Know You Want Me". Karen appears with her non identical twin sister Kate Elson in the 2011 H&M Holiday campaign. She is also the face of Banana Republic's 2011 Holiday Collection.
Elson 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 Steven Meisel and Darren Lew's War Opera, Nick Knight's Andy Warhol-inspired series More Beautiful Women, Craig McDean's 48 Girls, 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 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.Lay Down Lean, by The 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."
In 2008, Elson opened a vintage boutique in Nashville, Tennessee with Amy Patterson. The boutique was called Venus & Mars- The Showroom and featured "high end rare vintage garments and adornments to cheap and cheerful vintage dress and jewels." The boutique closed in November 2010.
On May 9, 2011, it was announced that Elson has designed her own line of shoes, bags and jewelry for fashion brand Nine West. The items became available in the Fall of 2011.
In August 2012, 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."
Elson is a founding member and performer with the New York City 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. 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. Short samples of her performances are available on the troupe's website as well.
Elson's musical career has been building slowly over the past several years. In 2003 she contributed backing vocals to a remix of Robert Plant's "Last Time I Saw Her" from Plant's album Dreamland. 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 chosen by REM singer Michael Stipe. In 2006 she dueted with Cat Power on a provocative cover version of "I Love You (Me Either)" for Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited, a tribute album to French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.
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?'". In February 2010, it was announced that Elson would be releasing her debut solo album The Ghost Who Walks, produced by Jack White. News of the album's release was made by a live acoustic performance video "The Ghost Who Walks (Acoustic)" posted on the internet. The album was released on Third Man Records via XL Recordings in May 2010. It received generally favorable reviews.Spin magazine gave it 7/10 and compared her voice to both Jenny Lewis and Loretta Lynn.
On September 2, 2010, Elson and her band performed on the Late Show with David Letterman. The fourth season of HBO TV series, True Blood, featured Elson's cover of "Season of the Witch" over the credits of the episode "If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin'?". The thirteenth episode of Fringe Season 4, "A Better Human Being" featured Karen's song "The Ghost Who Walks".
Elson often contributes to Record Store Day. For Record Store Day 2011, she released a cover of Lou Reed's "Vicious" and released a cover of Jackson C. Frank's "Milk and Honey" for Record Store Day 2012. Elson contributed a version of "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" to the Buddy Holly tribute album Rave On Buddy Holly, released in June 2011. In 2012, she contributed a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman" to Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac.
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.
Karen 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." They were married on June 1, 2005 in Manaus, Brazil. The White Stripes's manager Ian Montone served as best man while drummer Meg White, who is also Jack White's ex-wife, 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. The family lived in Nashville, Tennessee.They announced their divorce in June 2011.