If there’s a Brit model that deserves the moniker ‘super’, it’s Karen Elson. Discovered aged 16 in her hometown of Oldham and photographed for Vogue on her 18th birthday, she’s been on top of the fashion game for two decades since.
Walking the catwalk in all fashion capitals, including London’s Olympic Opening Ceremony alongside her peers Kate and Naomi, plus starring in campaigns for Prada, Celine and Saint Laurent, are just a fraction of her modelling achievements.
Away from the fashion world, she is a talented singer songwriter, with her second album Double Roses released in 2017. Karen lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is mum to two children, with ex-partner, musician Jack White.
GLAMOUR met up with Karen on a trip to London for the launch of her Jo Malone London collaboration. Here, the flame-haired beauty talks feminism, wellness, lipstick (she has two named after her) and her favourite perfume…
Do red heads have more fun?
Yes. This red head does. I’m all about living life to the full.
Can you imagine being any other colour?
I’ve tried every colour but it doesn’t suit my personality at all. I’m a vivacious red head.
What was your first experience of fashion and beauty?
Fashion started with makeup for me. Not growing up in a privileged environment, fashion was nothing I was used to. I would look in magazines and daydream over it all.
Luxury came from the lipstick you could afford with your pocket money. That’s why I love beauty. It is so much more attainable and gives you the same self-expression. I dyed my hair and did all kinds of weird and wonderful things with makeup.
And what’s your perception of beauty R.N?
I’m in fashion so obviously I’m get dressed up and made up all the time, but it’s a very different motivation for me in my own life.
I’m a feminist and the idea of being beautiful for someone else, is not something I care about. I want to look good for me. Women get so caught up with trying to look a certain way to hide our vulnerability. These days I want to strip myself of the things I want to cover and use beauty as an empowering tool, versus it being a presentation for someone else. I’ll wear make-up because it’s an expression of me, not because I want to look beautiful for a man or anyone. Those days are long gone.
Even the way I dress, I find myself gravitating to things that are an expression of power and strength and being a feminist. Today I’m wearing a suit and blue eyeliner. I wanted the makeup statement to be subtle yet strong.
What’s your wellness routine?
When I was younger, I never worked out. The past five years I’ve got really into it. I feel good for it. I see all these VS girls who are like ‘Yaaay’, I was never that girl, but I am now. It took me a long time, but I love working out, it’s very good for my mind. I’ve got one of those Peloton bikes and sometimes I’m really into it and I’ll ride for 30 minutes a day, but then there could be months where I look at the damn thing and go ‘Urrrggg, I can’t do that right now’. When I’m in Nashville, I’ll hike with friends and then do a Pilates class the same day. Then I feel I can sleep at night.
What products give you an instant confidence upgrade?
It’s all about the five senses. You want to look good, smell good, feel good. A good scent is like a warm blanket. It’s about memory, comfort and a little bit of luxury. It makes you feel so good.
What’s in your fragrance wardrobe?
I’m so lucky as my association with Jo Malone means there are so many fragrances to pick from. Today I put on Wild Bluebell [Cologne £94, Jo Malone London] because it felt appropriate, it’s a light and airy, daytime fragrance. Tonight I’m going to an event so will probably wear Incense Cedrat [Cologne, £75] or mix it with a spritz of Red Roses [Cologne, £94] to make something really seductive.
And what inspired your bespoke bottle top collaboration?
At first, I thought about creating fragrances linked to horoscopes, but recognising they already have so many amazing fragrances to choose from, we thought let’s a do a play on the bottle. The idea was to do something that feels very personal and bespoke so we decided on a bottle top featuring birthstones. You can then add it to your favourite perfume.
Each has been handcrafted by jewellery designer Duffy. They’re so beautiful and heavy too. Mine is the garnet one.
[Karen Elson Birthstone’s by Duffy, £250, Jo Malone London available from Jan 2019]
So do you believe in your horoscope?
I believe it when it’s good. When it’s like, ‘You’re going to have an amazing day.’ I’ll take that. Other days I’m like, ‘No way!’
What’s your favourite makeup hack?
I mix everything. All my make-up is 3 products mixed together. I’ll mix a drop of sunscreen in foundation; I might tailor the shade with 3 different foundations. I’m always doing it, that’s my thing.
Do you have skincare fave?
I recently tried Augustinus Bader [The Cream Original £205] and was like, ‘Wow, that’s good!’ Their packaging is a bit much, but the product’s amazing.
What’s your go-to makeup look?
For real life it’s not much; I’ll slap on a bit of mascara, By Terry foundation and Benetint [Lip Cheek Tint, £25.50, Benefit] on my lips and cheeks. I also had really natural makeup on my last record. It was quite a vulnerable, laying it all out on the table record, so I wanted to reflect that by hardly wearing any makeup. For the next one, I’m going to be much more articulate when it comes to a look.
On the red carpet I love to do something bold, but not in an obvious, overkill way. You won’t see me in a tonne of highlight and shade, let’s put it that way.
Is there a trend you’d never try?
People love make-up so I don’t want to be judgmental and say I’m never gonna do something, because I’ve done every make-up look known to man! For my life, less is more, showing not hiding me. When I see overdone makeup, I want to be like why are you hiding your beautiful face? Don’t hide it. But then if people want to, I’m not going to tell them they can’t.
Any other beauty bugbears?
There’s one thing that really irritates me when people say, ‘You look good for your age’, as if I’m meant to look terrible. At 39 years old, I’m supposed to look good for my age! It’s pedantic. Can’t we just get rid of that, because no one would say that to a man. I’m going to love being 40 and 50. My attitude is to embrace it. You’re not going to stop time moving forward, so you can either do everything in your power to stop the clock and look more and more like a morphed version of myself or just grow old gracefully.
So you’re all for growing old gracefully?
I view it like a fine wine that gets better with age. I think that for a woman who is almost 40, there’s so much in society being like, ‘You should be jacked up on fillers’. Don’t get me wrong, I see Dr Colbert in New York and I love him, but he’s the kind of dermatologist who won’t make me look anything but me. I’m all about that. Do whatever the hell you need to do to get you through the night, but I’m not out to look anything different to how I am. That’s my motto: embrace it.
What’s in your makeup bag?
I’m a hoarder so it’s a beauty drawer! I love strong blue and purple eye colours at the moment and love the strong pigments in Tom Ford shadows [Eyeshadow Quad, £68]. I like drugstore stuff too, like a Maybelline mascara [Great Lash £6], it’s a classic. I also love a Charlotte Tilbury mascara [Full Fat Lashes £23]. Who doesn’t love mazzy! I’ve got Pat McGrath lipsticks. She named two after me. There’s Elson, a blood red and then Elson 2, a more orange red [MattTrance Lipstick, £31].
Do you ever indulge in a beauty guilty pleasure?
Isn’t it all a guilty pleasure? I didn’t wash my face last night. I knew I had to be up at 6 and thought, ‘I could go all the way to the bathroom and wash it all off, but no I’ll do it in the morning.’ Sometimes it’s good to not obsess, to have that glass of wine and go to bed in your make-up. Everyone’s like, ‘ You can’t do that!’ but I think,’Oh please’. Sometimes there’s days you don’t care and that’s important too. Beauty is a luxury, it doesn’t have to be a necessity.