Musician and Model Karen Elson Says Workout Gives Her “Peace”

Right Up With Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss, model and musician Karen Elson is one of those instantly recognizable faces. Red hair, porcelain skin, gentle lazy smile – Elson’s physical presence and attributes made her a muse for some of the top designers in the fashion sphere. Yes, for nearly 30 years, names like Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, Anna Sui and Dior have all harnessed the star for campaigns and runway collections, solidifying her as an industry mainstay.

And while frolicking on catwalks around the world and brandishing a successful modeling career is all very well, there’s another world that Elson has slowly but surely claimed in recent years: music. Since 2004, the singer-songwriter has worked tirelessly on her passion, recording four albums as a solo artist. The British-born mother-of-two has even moved permanently to the music capital of Nashville, surrounding herself with some of the game’s top writers and producers.

In a Zoom call with TZR, Elson describes his latest project, Green, released on April 30, as the most “hopeful” of all his works. “It’s much lighter – pleasing to the eye, pleasing to the ear,” the artist explains. “I wanted it to be music that you play when you’re sitting by a fire. Music [you play] when you and your friends talk intimately, I wanted it to be like that.

Indeed, the first single of the project, “Shattered Shadow”, is an ethereal, serenely haunting tune, sung softly to the gentle strumming of a guitar. “I guess the essence of the song was kind of a triumph over adversity, finding yourself,” Elson explains. “Come to terms with yourself. The idea of ​​looking at a broken mirror – what reflection do you see? It’s very indicative of how we feel in general […] I think it’s like making peace with it, in a more esoteric sense.

Ahead, the model-turned-musician talks about her life in Nashville, her take on how the fashion industry has changed in recent years, and the little inspirations and rituals that keep her peaceful amid the chaos.

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Green is technically your fourth solo album. How does that compare to what you’ve done in the past?

I think I take myself less seriously. For the first two records, I had a chip on my shoulder about ‘Nobody’s gonna take me seriously because I’m a model. And no one will consider me an artist because of who they perceive me to be, through an image. And I just had to get over that. I had to make peace with my own insecurities. And I think that’s been a big evolution for this record, is that I’m a lot more at peace with myself and I feel like I’m in a really good place creatively. And, because I don’t take myself seriously, I have more fun with it.

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Is there a favorite song you have on the album?

Obviously, I love “Broken Shadow”, really. [Also, there’s] “Fergus In The Sun”, because it was a tribute to my beloved cat who passed away. This is how I literally don’t take myself seriously. I write songs about my cat. We were writing on this table and he was always coming and kind of, the king that he was, was laying down as the sun came up a little bit. And we were just playing guitar around the kitchen table, and Ferg would be in the middle of it. And we were like, ‘That’s a really good little interlude on the album.’ It’s so funny to say my favorite song is my song about my cat, but I’m gonna own it.

How have the past two years marked you as an artist and writer?

Before the pandemic hit, I was at absolute levels of exhaustion. I was really unhappy in my life. I looked around at what I had built and wondered, what’s the point of all this? Especially when it came to the fashion industry – I felt incredibly disconnected, like I was constantly being put in really toxic situations. My joy was at its lowest.

And through the isolation, I definitely found a lot of peace. It was hard, sure, but there were those times when I realized I hadn’t sat down and looked up at the sky in so long. I haven’t sat by the fire and enjoyed a glass of wine without feeling that frenetic energy around an endless to-do list.

And as we return to this version of normality, I cannot afford to return to this place. It’s a struggle. I think I developed an anxiety disorder for real, when [the world started to open up again]. Because I had forgotten how much energy I needed to be on it. I don’t want to be that person anymore. I’m still sailing. It’s a moment when you realize you have to live your life. You only have one life to live.

Tell me about your relationship with the fashion industry now? What do you think of the changes and developments of recent years?

So it’s a bit complicated. The creative aspects [of fashion] I love. The commercial aspects, however, are difficult. I don’t want to be so antagonistic about the fashion industry that it comes across as if I don’t like it. I love it. I just think women being put on a pedestal in general is hard. Because you’re always knocked down and you always have “You can’t quite live up to the picture” moments. And I don’t want to live up to the image anymore. I’d rather be myself and be happy than be another version of myself.

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I think change is happening. It’s a very slow pace, like glacial, but it’s happening. I think social media has a huge impact on that because I think people can air their grievances now and everyone can speak up for themselves. Even for me, I feel like I can finally talk openly about my struggles and how fashion made me feel. And that’s important, but people have to listen.

That’s the next thing – action. ‘Cause you can’t just be people who spurt out and nothing happens. There must be actionable change. And that’s what I’m fighting with, because fashion is a slug. He takes his time and remains very fickle. Everyone’s going a million miles an hour, and that’s just not healthy. It’s not healthy at all for anyone. So many people I know are in the burnout phase. And I think there is a way to do this job differently. I really do. But it will just take leaders wanting to do things differently.

OK, let’s talk about something a little lighter, like your day-to-day life. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

I’m so embarrassed but it’s Wordle or Instagram. I love Wordle.

When you have the chance to indulge yourself, what do you do?

I’m not good at doing nothing. This is the problem. But a treat for me would honestly be a day at the spa: pedicure, manicure, facial massage, body scrub. Rest it all on me. And then a nice lunch with wine, chatting, early evening. Awesome.

What are you listening to these days?

Oh, I just walked into this girl, Yebba. Her voice is amazing. This girl is so talented. I heard his music recently, and I thought to myself, Who the hell is that? Her voice is stunning. But his story and his writing, it just crushed me. So, [I’m an] instant fan.

[Her sound is] almost like very moving. It can range from a feeling of “Drake” to Dusty [Springfield] and Memphis, but his vocal range and writing, oh my. I literally cannot recommend her enough. You have to listen to it.

One thing you can’t live without is…

Probably toast and tea in the morning. What are you going to do? I am English.

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Where do you dream of traveling? Why?

I really want to go to Greece and take a sailboat somewhere. I think it would be so magical. Maybe also in Turkey. Because all of these places are so ridiculously beautiful. Oh, and then Rwanda to see the silverback gorillas.

What’s your secret weapon to looking good and feeling good?

I love Vintner’s daughter – I love their face oil. I use it religiously every day.

Do you have a favorite workout/wellness practice?

I’m a little crazy. I’m doing the Orange theory. I love cardio. Like today, this morning before I jump in this press [day], woke up early, went to Orange Theory, ran, lifted weights, rode horses, rowed. And I love that. I also like Pilates. I like to do yoga once in a while. Probably need to do some more yoga. I think I could definitely use a little more mindfulness in my life. But in fact, a version of peace for me spins fast.

What’s the best relationship advice you’ve ever received?

The best relationship advice is to communicate. I think the older I get I mean I’m in a very happy relationship [right now], but I think what I noticed in me and my partner is that we talk. We communicate. And if there is a problem, solve it. If there’s something that needs to be looked at, deal with it. I may tend to hold my feelings close to my chest and not necessarily share them, out of fear. Like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going crazy. I shouldn’t share this. What I learned is that you just have to do it. It’s like taking care of the garden. Your relationship is a garden and you have to trim the weeds, and you have to be attentive to give it love and nourishment.

Also, the last relationship advice that’s been so valuable to me is to let a person do them — like not clipping someone’s wings. You go and do me, I go and do me, then we come together…and respecting that independence. I’m a very independent woman and in the past I’ve definitely felt smothered. And what’s interesting about the relationship I’m in is that he’s also a very independent man. So we both have this feeling of leaving and doing our thing and then coming back. And that’s a very healthy mindset.

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