On Her New Album ‘Green,’ Karen Elson Finds Hope in the Darkness


I did a few things—a duet with Cat Power for a Serge Gainsbourg cover record, and backing vocals for my friend Robert Plant—and I started getting the confidence to sing. Then I was in The Citizens Band cabaret for a long time, and that really gave me the boost I needed. They were all wild, crazy, and brilliantly creative people, and they legitimized me, so then I felt more confident sharing songs that I had written. And by the time I wrote my first record, it was my ex-husband, Jack, who was like, “For God’s sakes, you can actually do this, so just do it.” He definitely gave me the push I needed, because I was too scared of failure up to that point. It was that moment where I realized, Okay, people might like you, people might not like you, but you can’t control any of that, so you might as well do it. It’s so funny, I’m not sure if you believe in horoscopes—I’m not even sure if I believe in horoscopes—but when someone did my chart, they were like, “Oh, you’re a late bloomer.” I think we all live in a world where you feel like you should have everything figured out by your 20s. I think we all limit ourselves with the belief that, at a certain age, we’re falling off the vine or that we’re no longer viable. I think particularly working in fashion, you’re reminded of that a little too often. I always felt like everything could get taken away from me any minute because I’m not a size zero, or I’m in my 40s now. The older I get, of course, the less I care.

It must be nice to have reached a stage in those two parallel careers where there can now be crossover between them, right? Like the Moschino musical you did last year, or co-directing the videos for the new album?

Definitely. I’m so happy that crossover is finally happening. I think it’s also about having more fun, because fashion at its best is this playful, creative endeavor. That whole Moschino shoot was just incredible. God bless Jeremy [Scott]. He’s pop art, he’s camp, he’s just a joy. We had Stella Maxwell as a dancing hot dog, and me dancing through this sort of imaginary musical theater world. Every day of that shoot, I was just pinching myself. I love doing stuff like that. And with this album, co-directing the videos and being a big part of the creative, coming in with the inspirations I want, and knowing enough about photography now to say, “This is the direction that we’re going in,” it just feels like a natural evolution. It’s like any good model: you take Linda Evangelista or Naomi Campbell and you put them on a set, they know what’s up. They know if the dress works. They know if the lights are in the right place. They know if the concept works or not. And you’ve got to listen to them. Like I said earlier, you’ve only got one life to live, and the world’s a creative playground, so I might as well get my crayons out.

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